The following is the cover story from the December 16 issue of The Advocate. Selected stories from that issue will be posted November 19 on Advocate.com; subscribers will receive the issue the following week. Accompanying Michael Joseph Gross's piece are photos taken November 12 at New York City's rally against the passage of Proposition 8 in California, which rescinded the right of same-sex couples to marry.For more coverage of the New York rally, click here. Top Photo: Gregory Gillbergh
The night before Election Day, a black woman walked into the San Francisco headquarters of the No on Proposition 8 campaign. Someone had ripped down the No on 8 sign she’d posted in her yard and she wanted a replacement. She was old, limping, and carrying a cane. Walking up and down the stairs to this office was hard for her.
I asked why coming to get the sign was worth the trouble, and she answered, “All of us are equal, and all of us have to fight to make sure the law says that.” She said that she was straight, and she told me about one of the first times she ever hung out with gay people, in New Orleans in the 1970s. “I thought I was so cool for being there, and I said, ‘You faggots are a lot of fun!’ Well, that day I learned my lesson. A gay man turned on me and said, ‘A faggot is not a person. A faggot is a bunch of sticks you use to light a fire.’ ”
The next day, Barack Obama was elected president, and gay marriage rights in California were taken away. At the same time, Arizona voters amended their state constitution to preemptively outlaw gay marriage. Florida went further, outlawing any legal union that’s treated as marriage, such as domestic partnerships or civil unions. Arkansas passed a vicious law denying us adoption rights.
The combination of Obama’s win and gay people’s losses inflicted mass whiplash. We were elated, then furious. I’d spent the week in the No on Prop. 8 office in the Castro, a neighborhood where our defeat was existential. For the next few days, wherever I went -- barbershop, grocery store, gym, bars -- I heard people talk of almost nothing else. Incredibly, strangers on the street walked up to me and started conversations about Prop. 8. Taking the long view, some found hope and consolation: 52.3% of Californians voted against us, but 47.7% voted with us, which was the closest we’ve ever come to winning a ballot measure for marriage equality in the state. Other election results were even more encouraging: In New York State, where a marriage bill is pending, we won enough legislative seats to secure a pro-equality majority; Connecticut voters rejected a constitutional convention that could have reversed that state’s legalization of marriage.
Still, the election was a blindsiding reminder that the majority of voters, even in a state as liberal as California, still see gay people as second-class citizens. These past few years we’ve made so much progress that we’d begun to think everybody saw us as we see ourselves. Suddenly we were faced with the reality that a majority of voters don’t like us, don’t think we're normal, don’t believe our lives and loves count as much or are worth as much as theirs.
History compounds the insult and suggests hypothetical scenarios rendering the mixed result of this election even more absurd. If the California supreme court and the U.S. Supreme Court decisions overturning antimiscegenation laws -- Perez v. Sharp and Loving v. Virginia -- had been blocked by popular vote, Barack Obama might never have been born. His parents would not have been able to marry in several states (although Hawaii, where they were married, had never enacted a law against interracial marriage).