An edited version of this piece appeared in the May 16, 2013 edition of the SF Bay Times

Last Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of a marriage equality milestone. On May 9, 2012, President Obama told the nation, “[W]hen I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed … same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet … are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, … it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

President Obama’s statement of support for the freedom to marry, the first by a sitting U.S. president and the culmination of a years-long “evolution,” made history. Even more critically, it made a difference in shaping the conversation that is difficult to overstate. In May, 2012, just six states and the District of Columbia had recognized marriage equality for same-sex couples. Just one day before the president’s pro-equality statement, in fact, after a bitter ballot initiative campaign and by an overwhelming margin of 61 to 39 percent, North Carolina voters had amended the state’s constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman, and to prohibit same-sex couples not only from marrying but from entering into any “legal domestic union,” including civil unions and domestic partnership.

Our opponents gloated. One more confirmation, they asserted, of their talking point that every time “the people” are allowed to vote on marriage equality, they reject it. Then the president made his public statement of support for the right of same-sex couples to marry.

And the tide, which already had started to turn, began to swell. 2012 became the watershed year for our movement. Since that spring, for example, public opinion polls consistently have shown majority support for the freedom to marry.

Last September, the Democratic Party made history at its convention when it became the first major American political party to include a “Freedom to Marry” plank in its platform, a plank unanimously approved by the platform committee.

In November, the voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington affirmed that freedom at the ballot box, while Minnesota rejected a constitutional ban like the one North Carolina had ratified only a few months earlier. Overnight, the number of marriage equality states increased by 50 percent. The opposition lost its momentum along with its favorite talking point. “The people” no longer could be counted upon to reject the freedom to marry. To the contrary, “the people” had rejected those who would stand in the way of freedom, unequivocally and without exception, in a four-state sweep.

In January, President Obama again made marriage equality history. In his inaugural address at the U.S. Capitol, the president proclaimed, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law. For if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” Going even further, he invoked “Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall,” clearly tying the contemporary movement for LGBT equality to the civil rights struggles for gender and racial equality.

And the president’s evolution represented just the tip of the iceberg.

Two months ago, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who previously had voted in support of the Defense of Marriage Act and against adoption rights for same-sex couples, became the first sitting Republican senator to announce that he had reversed his position on marriage equality and now supported the freedom to marry.

Portman’s announcement soon was followed by a flood of senators endorsing this freedom. Over just a two-week period in late March and early April, twelve more senators announced their support, including another Republican, Illinois Senator Mark Kirk. When the dust settled, 54 Senators (52 Democrats and 2 Republicans) were on record as supporting marriage equality. Among the 55 Democratic senators, only three still remain opposed.

Now it’s May, 2013, and the landscape is almost unrecognizable from just a year ago. This month is barely half over, in fact, and already the legislatures of three more states - Rhode Island, Delaware, and Minnesota - have passed marriage equality legislation. Moreover, all five of Rhode Island’s Republican state senators voted for the freedom to marry, the first time the legislative caucus of either of the two major political parties, in any state, unanimously had supported equal marriage rights.

Combined with the three states that recognized the freedom to marry last November, the number of marriage equality states has doubled over the past year, from six to twelve, plus the District of Columbia. And Illinois still could swell these ranks by one more before the end of this month.

Given where we stand now compared to one year ago, then, it’s all but impossible to predict how different things might look a year from now.

What will the state of marriage equality be in May, 2014? Which other states might recognize the freedom to marry by then? Oregon, which is planning to take the issue to the voters in November? Ohio, where the state Democratic Party just announced plans to attempt to repeal the state’s constitutional ban and recognize marriage equality, perhaps this fall? New Jersey, which has until January to override the governor’s veto of a marriage bill already passed by the legislature?

And next month also promises to alter the landscape, for better or for worse, as the Supreme Court issues its rulings in the Prop 8 and DOMA cases.

We can only speculate on which of the myriad possible outcomes will prevail - or whether the Court even will rule on the cases’ merits at all - but they include possibilities that could bring the freedom to marry to California alone, to California and the eight other states that offer civil unions or domestic partnerships, or even to all fifty states, though the latter seems unlikely to most advocates and legal analysts.

Even the most restrictive of these positive outcomes - recognizing the freedom to marry only in California - still would be quite significant. Though it would increase the tally of marriage equality states by only one more, because California is so populous the percentage of Americans living in marriage equality states would nearly double.

Of course, the Supreme Court also could uphold Prop 8, ruling that notwithstanding the equal protection guarantees of the U.S. constitution, a majority may vote to restrict or even revoke a minority’s right to marry. But even this worst-case scenario no longer has the power to threaten or discourage me. It is clear, even to our opponents, that the recognition of the freedom to marry is a foregone conclusion, sooner or later.

At its best, the Court could read the same tea leaves and affirm once and for all that the U.S. constitution protects the freedom to marry for all Americans, right now, and regardless of where they live, just as it did in 1967 for interracial couples. But even at its worst, while the Court could slow the pace of freedom a little, it can neither stop nor reverse it. That horse already has left the barn. And it’s pulling a white wedding carriage all the way down to City Hall.

An edited version of this piece appeared in the May 2, 2013 edition of the SF Bay Times

I was poised to write this week’s column as a speculation about which state would be the tenth to recognize civil marriage equality for same-sex couples, joining nine other states and the District of Columbia where the freedom to marry already is guaranteed. Would it be Delaware, where the House passed a marriage equality bill last week, just five days after the bill’s introduction?

Maybe Rhode Island, where two critical Senate votes finally had been scheduled, three months after a similar bill passed in the House?

Or Minnesota, where a state senator seen as a key swing vote announced he would support the pending bill?

Might it even be former front runner Illinois, which seems to be floundering after an initial brisk start out of the gate, when swift Senate approval had been hailed as a Valentine’s Day gift for Illinois’s same-sex couples?

Even Nevada got into the game last week, albeit by necessity taking a much longer view; due to statutory requirements, Nevada residents won’t be able to vote to repeal the existing ban and to sanction civil marriage equality until 2016 at the earliest.

Coming off a two-month period where there had seemed relatively little activity on marriage equality legislation, I was primed to handicap the race and make my predictions for the finish.

But when you’re a writer with a long lead time, the real world can end up throwing curve balls - or, perhaps more aptly, dramatic ninth-inning game-tying home runs, which to Giants fans like my fiancé and me has become a heart-poundingly familiar part of the game.

That’s pretty much what happened -a game-tying late-inning home run by the Giants and a marriage equality curve ball - just as I was putting my column to bed. Shift-click, delete. Reboot. Sadly, the Giants went on to lose that evening. But marriage equality was poised for at least one dramatic win.

With the Rhode Island Senate’s incredibly swift and stunningly lopsided bipartisan vote for marriage equality, the largely procedural formality of sending the slightly amended bill back to the supportive House for re-approval, and Governor Lincoln Chafee’s public endorsement, the question of which state will be the tenth to recognize marriage equality already seems clearly answered. Rhode Island is likely to have a signed marriage equality law early this month, potentially as early as this week. Same-sex couples should be able to start marrying there this summer.

I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if we saw an 11th state moved into the win column by the time this hits print. As quickly as things can change, any prepublication prediction I might make is prone to be overtaken by reality.

And I’m okay with that. It’s not often that a writer hopes that what he’s penned is out-of-date by the time it appears in print. But I couldn’t be happier about the possibility that the U.S. sometimes moves faster on marriage equality than even those of us who devote much of our time to the issue might expect or predict.

So now that my prediction about the outcome in Rhode Island is moot, I can turn rather to why I think it’s particularly meaningful.

First, that any state comes to recognize the freedom to marry is momentous. Every state that moves to embracing fuller equality for same-sex couples brings us one step closer to equality for all. Some Supreme Court scholars suggest that the Court cares very much about where states and state governments stand on an issue - more than they might care about where a majority of Americans themselves stand on an issue - so every state that recognizes marriage equality is one more point in our favor on that hypothetical scoreboard.

There may never be a more critical time, in fact, than in this period between the February Prop 8 and DOMA oral arguments and the decisions expected next month, to demonstrate to the Court that more and more states are moving towards fuller equality for same-sex couples rather than continuing to reject or qualify equal treatment under the law.

Still, Rhode Island has its own particular and in some ways even unique significance in the movement for marriage equality. With Maine’s recognition of the freedom to marry at the ballot last fall, for example, Rhode Island had remained the only New England state to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples.

Significantly, all five members of the Senate’s Republican caucus voted for the bill, the first legislative caucus of either of the two major political parties in any state to unanimously support the freedom to marry. Marriage equality is not a partisan issue, and support for the freedom to marry crosses party lines, superseding politics.

The Senate vote similarly demonstrated that marriage equality is not inimical to religious liberty, and that religious belief need not correlate with opposing the freedom to marry. The percentage of the population identifying as Catholic is among the highest in the U.S. Many state senators are publicly and proudly religious. During floor debate, several confirmed they had been pressured to oppose the bill on religious grounds, but they had come to recognize they were voting for civil marriage equality, and that their churches’ understanding of the religious sacrament of marriage was neither affected nor in any way jeopardized by the civil marriage legislation.

Perhaps the most important take-away from the Rhode Island legislative process, however, was a message at the heart of Marriage Equality USA’s own mission, that hearts and minds change in favor of marriage equality when the legislator or the voter knows someone gay: a family member, a close friend, a neighbor, a colleague.

Research has borne out what we’ve long proposed; when someone you know or love is gay, it’s less likely you will vote to restrict their freedom and equality, and more likely you will advocate for their inclusion as full rather than second-class citizens. Senator after senator in Rhode Island last week said that they had been planning to vote against the marriage equality bill before they got to know lesbians and gay men, spent time with same-sex couples and their kids, and saw that while their love and commitment and family values are the same, the way the government and the law treats them is different. They saw that this is unfair, and that it is wrong, and that it is un-American. And they voted to make it right.

It turns out that being open, honest and out of the closet - telling our stories, in our own words, to the people already in our lives - are among the very best tools we have to ensure our equality. Now that’s a “lifestyle” worth promoting.

On Sunday, Jeff and I took our tuxedos out of the closet and out of their dry cleaning bags, to let them air out.

You see, we had planned to marry each other tonight. But our marriage won’t take place today.

We had planned to marry each other last Thursday. But our marriage didn’t take place last week.

In fact, we had planned to marry each other last year. But our marriage never took place in 2009.

Why didn’t we marry today, or last Thursday, or last year? It wasn’t a case of nerves, second thoughts, or “cold feet,” nor was it bad weather. It wasn’t that we couldn’t get the place we wanted, or that the officiant failed to show up. It wasn’t that we didn’t really want to. We wanted to… we want to… intensely.

Why didn’t we marry? Because, despite our hopes being raised in 2008, and last week, and again this week, that we were going to be allowed to marry, time after time those hopes have been dashed by a government that says we can’t, that our relationship, our long-term commitment to each other, is of less value than those of our friends, that our family is sub-standard compared to other families, that we are not fully entitled to the rights our constitution promises and that our fellow citizens take for granted. Our government takes arguments from some (not all) religious traditions that our relationship is immoral, inherently sinful, and destructive — destructive! — to other families, to American society, and to civilization as a whole, and it codifies these beliefs — contrary to a system of government that is not supposed to privilege any one religious doctrine over another, especially in matters of civil law — into laws and constitutional amendments that deem us of less worth than prisoners on death row, than convicted pedophiles and rapists, than people who have abandoned their spouses and children; all of these groups of people have had their right to marry affirmed by the government as inviolable. My government imposes upon me all the responsibilities of citizenship — I registered for the draft, I pay the same taxes — but denies me some of the rights that others never even question as being theirs. My government confers to me only a second-class citizenship.

Our marriage never took place in 2009. A few months earlier, 52% of our fellow Californians voted — a vote that may not even be legal under the US Constitution, which exists in part to ensure that the rights of disadvantaged, even hated, minorities are not subject to the whim of the majority — to enshrine discrimination into the state constitution and to strip us of equality, in a chilling case of a constitution being used to take away rights rather than enhance them.

Our marriage didn’t take place last week. A judge who believed that our constitutional guarantees to equality were being denied nonetheless withheld our right to marry for a few days.

Our marriage won’t take place today. On Monday, three judges withheld our right to marry until they can decide if we merit equality.

So, what was I doing on Monday, the day the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied my right — you may argue that it merely delayed it, again, but the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., accurately noted that “a right delayed is a right denied” — to marry the man I love, the man with whom I’ve spent the past seven years, and the man I intend to be with until the day one of us stops breathing? What sinful, un-American civilization-destroying immorality was I indulging the day our hopes were dashed again?

I was making soup, for Jeff. I was taking care of the man I love more than my own life while he was suffering from a cold. I was doing what I hope any legally married spouse would do when the person he or she loved was feeling down and miserable.

As we sat eating it that afternoon, only then did I recognize the irony. “Do you realize what we’re eating?”, I asked, and then answered. “It’s Italian wedding soup.” We both laughed at the black humor, often the only kind of humor we can find in the situation; we laugh to beat back the tears, the frustration, the despair, the anger that otherwise sometime threaten to overwhelm us.

I don’t know if I can accurately convey what it feels like to go through this roller coaster — we have the right to marry, we don’t have the right to marry, we have the right back?, no it’s on hold for a week, we have it back now?, no it’s on hold indefinitely — to someone who isn’t in the same boat. It might seem like a relatively little thing — not everyone wants to marry, or chooses to, and, after all, we have domestic partnership, right? — but no matter what you think of the relative importance of marriage generally, or of the “separate but almost equal” institutions of domestic partnership and civil unions, you probably can’t really imagine — especially if you’re white, or male, or a member of my post-Jim Crow generation or younger — what it’s like to have a right, a right you and more and more of your fellow citizens believe is a constitutional right, a right that others take for granted, passively withheld from you or, worse, actively taken away from you. To have this right recognized and then withdrawn, again and again, and sometimes even at the moment you’re hoping to be able to exercise it… is painful in a way I can’t fully describe, painful to the very core of my intellect, of my heart, of my spirit. Perhaps only the death of my father has generated pain as deep and despair as bruising as having my equality stripped from me. Conversely, little in my life has risen to the joy I felt on those occasions that my government agreed that I am not a second-class citizen, when even if just for a few moments my equality seemed fully realized.

Over the past couple of weeks, Jeff and I have become more visible in the fight for marriage equality. We’ve given interviews to NPR and local radio stations; we’ve had television news teams in our home; we’ve seen photos of the two of us, standing together, supporting each other, in papers from San Francisco and Oakland to Toronto, New Zealand, and Denmark. Yes, the ham in me enjoys talking to reporters. But we’ve stepped forward, when we can — despite the pressures and stresses it sometimes can impose — not for some kind of narcissistic kick of seeing ourselves on television, but because we believe so strongly in this issue, and we especially believe it’s critically important to put a human, personal face on it. We’re not invisible inhuman immoral terrorist monsters who want to destroy the institution of marriage. We’re just two guys who live down the street with their two cats, who love each other, who take care of each other when one is sick or hurting, who laugh with each other, who just want the same thing that many of you do, to marry the person you love. We don’t want to destroy marriage; in fact, we may give more thought to the ideals and importance of marriage than many who take it for granted. We don’t want to destroy marriage; we want the same things that most people do, to love, to be loved, to build a family, to take care of each other. And we want just one more thing: to be equal in the eyes of the law.

So, for now, our tuxedos have gone back into the closet. But we won’t.

an engaging story

I’ve been remiss in updating the blog this year; rather than full-form old-style blog posts, most of my writing these days takes the form of microblogging via Twitter and/or Facebook. However, Jeff and I both have been publishing occasional posts on a new shared site, “happy together,” accessible at both and, so you’re covered whichever one of us comes first when you think of us as a couple.

On our shared site, currently we’re chronicling our plans for our wedding this coming September 26. Yes, for those of you who haven’t already heard elsewhere, we’re engaged. To the semantics: yes, thanks to the odious Proposition 8 and DOMA, our union won’t actually be legally considered a civil marriage in California, with any of the state or federal rights and obligations afforded to opposite-sex couples. But as far as we’re concerned, it’s still a wedding. And, in fact, we already are registered in California as domestic partners, which gives us the same rights and obligations as does marriage here — though only at the state level, since the federal government won’t honor the legal agreement into which our state allows us to enter, which causes all sorts of real and potential issues and headaches when traveling out of state or when filing income taxes. But anyway, back to the positive…

On Friday, February 13, Jeff and I went into San Francisco to the same state office not where you apply for a marriage license, but where you apply for a business license, in order to register as domestic partners. The next day we drove down to San Simeon, Monterey and Carmel for the weekend, and over a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner in Carmel, we each proposed to the other. Happily, we both said “yes.”

So, our wedding and luncheon reception will be held Saturday, September 26, 2009, on the terrace and in the adjoining Terrace Room at the historic Cliff House in San Francisco, with its dramatic location overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Seal Rock.

For more information and for future updates about the wedding, please visit happy together or subscribe to its RSS feed (

This afternoon we had brunch at the Park Chalet on the Great Highway, and then walked across the road to Ocean Beach to take some photos, from some of which I created the following 360-degree panorama:

Afterwards, we drove to the Legion of Honor Museum where we caught the 4:00 organ concert and then strolled around until the museum closed. Afterwards, we took some additional photos on the grounds, from which I created the following panorama:

Andrew Sullivan today wrote that California’s Prop. 8 “should stand, and the court should decline to reverse it. We lost. They won in a fair fight. No whining.”

First of all, “we” lost? Sullivan doesn’t live or vote in California. He didn’t contribute may not have contributed (ed.: as Jeff S. comments, the donor database doesn’t appear to be complete, so I can’t assume that Sullivan didn’t donate) a penny to defeat Prop. 8 (at least as of the most recent information in the donor database, from November 6 . He already has taken advantage of his right to legally marry his own same-sex partner in Massachusetts and his rights weren’t taken away by popular vote. How exactly is he part of “we”, and just why should we care what he thinks about this?

Second, by what stretch of the imagination was this a “fair fight”? Frankly, yes, I’d have preferred if Prop. 8 had been defeated at the ballot box, for once and for all. The elected representatives of the people, after all, approved same-sex marriage twice, but the governor vetoed it, saying that the Supreme Court should be the ones to decide.

And when it did go to the people, it won —and even so, just barely— by saturating the air waves with hateful lies and misrepresentations that would never be acceptable if used of any other minority, through appeals to irrational fears and bigotry, and with millions of dollars and person-hours of volunteer time essentially mandated by the Mormon church of its membership, much of that money and time coming from people who don’t even live in the state. And it won through the absurdity of a constitution that can be so easily amended, but not so easily revised. That’s hardly “fair.”

Moreover, Prop. 8 never should have been placed on the ballot for majority vote in the first place, and the California Supreme Court seemed to agree in its May ruling (hat tip Pam’s House Blend) when it wrote:

”..under this state’s Constitution, the constitutionally based right to marry properly must be understood to encompass the core set of basic substantive legal rights and attributes traditionally associated with marriage that are so integral to an individual’s liberty and personal autonomy that they may not be eliminated or abrogated by the Legislature or by the electorate through the statutory initiative process [emphasis mine].”

As I wrote a few days ago, our constitutional republic is supposed to guarantee that the rights of an unpopular minority are not subject to the vote of a majority; we have constitutions and courts specifically to protect those rights from popular vote.

It seems to me, then, that the court has a responsibility not only to hear the cases before it in the matter of Prop. 8, but that it should act to overturn it. Otherwise, we and they have effectively agreed with the popular, albeit incorrect, opinion that “the majority is always right,” that the courts are “activist” as opposed simply to fulfilling their constitutionally mandated role, and thereby we essentially weaken the very foundation of our government. That is to say, if we agree that it’s okay to let the majority rule in the case of equal civil rights for gays and lesbians today, and that the courts are prohibited from doing their job to protect those rights, how can we ever justify in any past or future scenario that the majority shouldn’t be able to rule in taking away rights from other minorities, including racial or ethnic minorities, or religious minorities, and that the courts must remain silent and accept the will of the people then, too? Why shouldn’t the majority be able to make interracial marriages illegal again, then, or to make civil marriage illegal for atheists or any other unpopular minority?

Finally, Sullivan also writes, “It is one thing to decide that gay couples are barred from civil equality from now on, but to reach back and strip couples who married in good faith under the law is excessive.” I’m certainly in agreement that it would be wrong for the state to forcibly divorce couples who already legally married in California because of majority rule, though I’m unsure why Sullivan should be able to find this any different than allowing the majority only to prevent any such marriages in the future. I’m particularly chilled by the cavalier manner in which Sullivan apparently finds it acceptable to ban gay couples from civil equality, under any circumstances, just as long as we agree that it’s unacceptable to take away his marriage. I’m sure your wedding cake tasted delicious, Andrew; thanks so much for your “let them have cake” attitude to those of us here in California who deserve the same equality.

I was really moved by Keith Olbermann’s “Special Comment” in regards to same-sex marriage and California’s Prop. 8 earlier this week, and several straight friends wrote to tell me about it as well. Here it is, if you haven’t seen it already.

I was similarly touched by Judith Warner’s most recent New York Times column, “What It Felt Like to Be Equal.” The quotes Warner shares from gay people who were directly affected by the passage of Prop. 8, about feeling that gays are now perhaps the only group it is okay to publicly disdain and legally discriminate against, and how the otherwise historic election of Barack Obama can feel painfully hollow, capture exactly how I have been feeling since last Tuesday.

It wasn’t that she begrudged Obama his victory. It was just that his historic triumph made the insult to her community all the more painful. An awful thought came to her that night: Now we’re the designated cultural outcasts. “It’s almost like we’re the last group you can be openly bigoted about,” she told me.

“You look around and you think more than half of the people in this state voted to take this away from us? At a time when we’re celebrating the election of an African American to the White House? I don’t know how you heal from it,” she said. “It’s hard to get it out of your bones.”

And Warner’s perspective as a straight person, admitting that it’s not always easy to understand why this is important, is perhaps the most eloquent writing on the issue I’ve yet seen:

It’s easy, if you’re straight, to file away the gay marriage issue in a little folder in your mind, to render it, essentially, inessential. It can fall into the category of “bones you throw the religious right because things could be so much worse.” Or “things that would be great in a perfect world.” Or “what’s the big deal?” because you don’t actually get what a big deal it is to be able to get married when you’ve never had to consider the alternative.

Many of the gay men and lesbians I spoke or e-mailed with this week didn’t fully realize what a big deal it was to be married either. Until they were.

“I don’t think I had realized until then what it felt like to be equal,” Swanson told me….

“I don’t feel equal anymore. It was a great feeling, while it lasted.”

But we shall overcome.

Tomorrow Jeff and I will be joining tens of thousands of other Americans — gay, Lesbian, bisexual, transgender, straight, young, old, black, white, Latino, Asian — in rallies across the country to continue to protest the injustice of Prop. 8 and laws like it. We’ll be at San Francisco’s City Hall at 10:30 tomorrow morning; there will be simultaneous rallies in hundreds of cities in all 50 states. You can find your closest event at the Join the Impact site.

Artist Shepard Fairey, who created the iconic Obama “Hope” and “Progress” posters, has created a special graphic for the occasion, “Defend Equality. Love Unites.”

Defend Equality. Love Unites.

I’d been planning to write this post since the passage of California’s Proposition 8 last Tuesday eliminating the right of same-sex couples to marry, but because I procrastinated, as usual, others, including Jeff, have beat me to the punch. Nevertheless, here’s my own take on the matter.

Two issues that have often distressed me, and that especially concern me in the aftermath of Prop. 8 are the claims like those of its supporters that 1) we live in a “democracy,” which they define as “majority rule,” and that 2) judges are “activists” who overstep their bounds when they overrule a majority vote directed at eliminating or restricting rights for a minority group.

First, it’s shameful that so many Americans, perhaps even a majority, have such a fundamental misunderstanding of their country’s government. Yes, America is a democracy, but the word “democracy” does not necessarily mean that “majority rules.” There are many types of democracies. The US is, of course, a constitutional republic, a particular form of democracy that constrains the ability of the majority, or of any one person, entity or governmental branch, to have unchecked power, especially over minorities, and especially concerning individual rights:

A constitutional republic is a state where the head of state and other officials are elected as representatives of the people, and must govern according to existing constitutional law that limits the government’s power over citizens. In a constitutional republic, executive, legislative, and judicial powers are separated into distinct branches and the will of the majority of the population is tempered by protections for individual rights so that no individual or group has absolute power. The fact that a constitution exists that limits the government’s power makes the state constitutional. That the head(s) of state and other officials are chosen by election, rather than inheriting their positions, and that their decisions are subject to judicial review makes a state republican… (Wikipedia)

Moreover, America was founded as such a constitutional republic in large part specifically to safeguard the rights of minorities against the “tyranny of the majority.” Claiming that a majority vote is sufficient to remove a right from a minority group, then, is about as un-American an idea as possible and by definition un-republican (lower case).

And this means that the judges who make unpopular decisions upholding minority rights, whether it be the right of interracial marriage or in California of same-sex marriage, are not creating law, they are not usurping the right of the majority, for in fact the majority is constitutionally not intended to have the ability to restrict the civil rights of a minority. Rather, these courts are doing what they were created and are constitutionally obligated to do. And in doing so, they remain significantly more true to the founders’ ideals than do those who would establish a mobocracy in America. For that is what the philosophy of “majority rules” is, in its purest form, nothing more than an angry, ugly mob.

You’d think that with their veneration (almost to the point of fetishization) of the Pledge of Allegiance, which includes “and to the Republic, for which it stands,” the right especially would have a little better understanding of U.S. government, and would at least learn what a republic really is, if they’re pledging allegiance to it. Apparently, not so. On the other hand, it’s a wonder that the right loves the Pledge of Allegiance so much in the first place, given that it clearly states, “with Liberty and Justice for all.” Not “all except blacks,” or “all except women,” or “all except gays and Lesbians,” even though there were times in our history when “all” or “we the people” was believed to mean only “all white men”; it was just as wrong then as it is now, and the courts were just as correct in their duty to rule against excluding gay folk from “all” in California earlier this year as they were in ruling against noninclusive forms of “all” for people of color and for women in the past. And the 52% majority was wrong to believe that they should have any say in it, or that having voted to deny civil rights that the case should be closed.

These are largely the only emotions I’ve been able to feel since Tuesday night, with the exception of two fleeting moment of elation 1) when the election first was called for Obama, and 2) when Obama gave his speech. Even in the midst of those moments, though, I kept being reminded that the promises inherent in an Obama presidency were not truly mine, as a gay person in America, to fully share. And while at the time I wrote that I was happy again to be an American, the truth is that by the next morning, recognizing the passage of California’s Proposition 8, I no longer felt as though I truly were even considered an American by even half my adopted home state of California, much less by anywhere near half the country as a whole.

Fifty-two percent of California voters Tuesday night did something remarkable and frightening. They amended the state’s constitution to strip a civil right from one group of people only. It’s that easy to do, which is shocking enough, yet the same process that makes it possible to take away rights by a simple majority vote requires a much more difficult process to restore those rights. Perverse. That same night, 70% of California voters voted to give additional rights to farm animals raised for food.

How am I supposed to feel now that a sizable percentage of the people I see on a daily basis in my neighborhood, at work, in stores and restaurants, not only believe that my life and my relationship are worth less than theirs, but vote to back up their personal religious beliefs with the force of the state?

And what recourse do I have when a mere 50% plus 1 of those voting have the power to do so? That frightens me. The tyranny of the majority unchecked.

And most of these people voted to take away my rights, Jeff’s rights and the rights of tens if not hundreds of thousands of other Californians and their children for one reason only. Religion. Religious leaders, subsidized by my own taxes, regularly stand up in their tax-exempt churches and tell these people to vote against me, that my life is evil and sinful, that (according to Catholic doctrine) I am “intrinsically disordered”, and that I am less than human. Millions of dollars poured in from out-of-state Catholic organizations like the Knights of Columbus, and tens of millions of dollars — between 40% and 70% of the total funds for this initiative — were given by Mormons, many again from outside California, commanded from their pulpits to do so.

Why should churches be allowed to benefit from tax advantages when they can act so clearly and directly to take away my rights, even though I have to pay taxes but receive fewer rights than other Americans? Through my life I’ve been moving from a position of having been indoctrinated in religion myself, to a period of spiritual exploration, to personal atheism combined with religious tolerance. After this egregious use of religion and its taxpayer-subsidized bully pulpits to attack me and my family and to deny me my rights, however, I have moved solidly to a position that religion must be actively fought in its every attempt to intrude publicly into law, science and education, and that religious institutions should not be subsidized by the state but should pay taxes.

But hey, if preventing me from marrying the man I love and intend to spend the rest of my life with now means that your marriage is safe again, and that you’ll stop those divorce proceedings so you can marry for the third time, stop beating your children, stop sleeping with your husband’s best friend, and stop slapping your wife around, well, then maybe it’s worth it. I’m really sorry that expressing my desire to actually enter an institution that you’ve already pretty much destroyed and more than half of you can’t even sustain has placed such a burden on you that you have become unable to treat it with any sanctity or dignity. I never knew I had that kind of power.

Know what, though? And this is what ultimately helps me channel my anger into something more productive, and diminishes my despair. Yes, you and your superstitions and your old-fashioned bigotry may have won this skirmish. Oh, but so narrowly, and that gap continues to narrow, and quickly. In the years to come, and maybe even soon, you will lose your war on fairness and equality. Younger Americans overwhelmingly don’t buy what you’re selling about us — they know us, are friends with us, love us, and see us and our relationships as no better or worse — and they will vote for equality instead of for hate and fear.

To the 52% of my fellow Californians who voted to make me a second-class citizen on Tuesday, though, I really do have to thank you for a couple of things.

First, my love for Jeff has not been diminished by your hate, fear and/or ignorance; our relationship is no less valid than yours, nor our commitment to one another any less real or meaningful, despite your wishing it so. If anything, this attack has made us even stronger. Thank you.

Second, over the last couple of months I’ve been struggling with figuring out what I wanted to do next in my professional life, feeling that I needed to make a major change. While I was already leaning this way, you’ve absolutely helped me hone in on what that change should entail. To wit, I intend now to focus my job search with institutions like the ACLU, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, People for the American Way, and similar organizations that work unceasingly and tirelessly to defeat your attempts to legislate hate and inequality. Thank you.

There is an unfair ballot proposition in California that, if passed, will take away my fundamental rights. This is really important to me. Will you help me defeat Proposition 8?

Jeff and I have been together for five years. We love and support each other in the same way as families all over the country; we share the same joys and the same sorrows, we have the same dreams and the same fears. We intend to spend our lives together, and we hope to be married next year. The California Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that it is unconstitutional in California to deny us the right to marry, just as it was the first court to rule, in 1948, that laws prohibiting interracial marriages also were unconstitutional. It is the constitutional duty of the court, in fact, to safeguard the rights of minorities, and that is what the California Supreme Court did.

California’s Proposition 8, however, now would take away our constitutional right to marry. It would take this right away only for same-sex couples and it would write discrimination directly into the state constitution. Constitutions are intended to delineate and give rights, not to take them away. Whatever your personal views or your church’s views are on gays and lesbians (and you should know that many, many churches, religious organizations, and faith- and community-based organizations actually have come out in opposition to this hateful proposition), I trust you agree that eliminating fundamental rights — from anyone — is just wrong.

And this isn’t just a hypothetical. If this proposition passes, Jeff and I will be prohibited from marrying next year, and the marriages of many of our friends may be invalidated. They and their children will be directly affected. Jeff and I will be directly affected. Imagine if other voters were able to decide to take away your right to marry, or to say that your own marriage had never really existed. That would be unfair. It would be wrong.

If you live in California, I hope you are already planning to vote NO. If you don’t live in California, you can help by making a donation to the No on 8 campaign.

Virtually every major paper in California is against Prop 8. The L.A. Times says it is “a drastic step to strip people of rights.” Even papers in the most conservative parts of the state have editorialized against Prop. 8. The San Diego Union Tribune, for example, wrote that “Prop 8…[singles] out a particular group for discrimination, a move that offends many Californians’ sense of fairness.” The Orange County Register said, “Revoking same-sex couples’ right to marry doesn’t belong in the state constitution. We recommend a “no” vote on Prop 8.” And the Sacramento Bee wrote, “Californians should reject the call to amend the state constitution to exclude some people from marriage. That would be a black mark on the constitution, just as past exclusionary acts remain a stain on California’s history.” They know that the truly conservative position is to encourage marriage for all, not to discriminate against some.

The other side has raised over $10 million more than us, and as much as 40% 77% [ed., October 23: new estimates suggest that the percentage of donations attributed to members of the LDS Church is much higher than originally reported] of their donations have come from the Mormon Church. No one church should be able to decide what civil rights we enjoy as private citizens of this country. The Prop. 8 supporters are using their vast war chest to spread lies and misinformation. Your donation will help reach undecided voters who need to hear that Prop. 8 is wrong and unfair.

If all of this doesn’t convince you, I hope you’ll email me (thom at so we can talk about this. You can also find out more at the No on Prop 8 site.

Thank you for doing all you can to defeat Prop. 8.

About me

Thom Watson, an Internet and social media consultant, was born in a small, rural, socially conservative town in the Allegheny mountains of Virginia. Now identifying as a gay, progressive atheist, however, he has come to terms with the fact that he is pretty much disqualified from ever holding public office. Thom and his partner, Jeff, live in Daly City, California.

» More...

Find Me Online

Email me

My Partner, Jeff

Ballet Blog

My Flickr Photos
(selected randomly)

» View more...

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism

Recent Comments