Response to the Prop 8 Ruling: It’s a Red Herring

Pardon me while I briefly interrupt the series about making friends as an expat to provide this commentary and feedback on today’s ruling by the California Supreme Court, upholding Proposition 8, which defines marraige as “between one man and one woman”.

07 While my initial reaction to today’s California Supreme Court ruling upholding Proposition 8 was one of disappointment, I really am not that worked up over it, for two reasons:

 

First, the court was ruling on whether the ballot initiative process was a legal way to change the constitution.  For better or for worse, the supporters of Prop 8 did follow the process.  The problem here is less one of equality and more one of California having a dysfunctional ballot initiative process.  As a Californian for more than thirty years, I’ll be the first to say that the initiative process has caused many more problems that it has solved.  So, if you’re upset at the ruling, turn some of that righteous indignation towards changing the state’s way of creating laws.

 

Second, while the word “marriage” is very powerful, same sex couples in California still have all the rights, responsibilities, and privileges of marriage through the state’s civil union process.  So, from a practical standpoint, a couple who gets a civil union tomorrow is afforded all of the same state benefits as couples who have one of the 18,000 same-sex marriages that the court ruled are still valid.

 

The fight over Prop 8, while important, is a red herring.

Here’s the real battle, friends: At the federal level, regardless of whether we have a “marriage” or a “civil union” in any of the fifty states or the District of Columbia, same sex couples do not have ANY federal rights.  There are 1,138 specific federal rights identified by the Government Accounting Office that married couples are afforded, including (most importantly for me and Tawn) immigration rights.

 

The struggle to gain full equal rights will be a long one.  Along that road we will face significant setbacks, obstacles and distractions.  We need to look at things in a broad context at each step of the way, making sure our efforts are focused on the endgame.  While winning back the right to have a “marriage” versus a “civil union” in California is important, and something that I look forward to, in forty of the states we can’t even have the civil union and at the federal level, having either doesn’t matter.  That’s where the real battle lies.

 

NAACP Chair Addresses Human Rights Campaign

NAACP Board Chair Julian Bond spoke Sunday evening at a gathering of Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights organization, in Los Angeles.  In his 25-minute speech, he eloquently compares the push for gay marriage rights to the struggle for civil rights for people of color.

As you may or may not be aware, there has been a lot of friction within the gay community since the passage of Proposition 8 in California, over the way that pro-gay marriage campaigners failed to effectively engage the communities of color, including gay and lesbian people of color.  In the days after Proposition 8 passed, there were nasty attempts to pin its passage on the members of black churches who turned out in record numbers to vote for President Obama.

It is against this backdrop that the words of Mr. Bond are especially important to listen to.  This is a man who has been involved in the struggle for civil rights and who has joined his gay and lesbian friends as they push for equality.

Del Martin – Honoring the Life of an Amazing Pioneer

There are people in this world whose work and life have positively affected our own, often in ways we may not realize, about whom we may not know.  On Wednesday, we lost an amazing person, Del Martin, at age 87.

Del Martin Described as a “pioneering lesbian rights activist”, Martin married 83-year old Phyllis Lyon, her partner of fifty-five years, in a ceremony at San Francisco City Hall on June 16, 2008 – the the first day on which same-sex marriage was legal in the state of California.

Right: Del Martin (in purple) and Phyllis Lyon are married on June 16.  Photo “courtesy” AP.

The label, though, could cause many of us who are not lesbians to mistakenly think her pioneering work did not affect our lives.  Rest assured, though, her tireless work resulted in greater freedoms, protections, and equality for all citizens of the United States.

The California Supreme Court decision in May of this year, striking down a law that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman, came about as a result of a lawsuit filed by Martin and Lyon and two dozen other couples.  Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi said, “We would not have marriage equality in California if it weren’t for Del and Phyllis.  They fought and triumphed in many battles.”

Martin and Lyon were involved in founding a San Francisco social group for lesbians in 1955 called the Daughters of Bilitis.  It became the nation’s first lesbian advocacy organization and one of the earliest groups to address the rights of queer people.

In the 1970s, Martin became the first out lesbian to serve on the National Organization of Women’s board of directors, a move that was highly controversial as NOW was concerned that her presence would be seen as too radical at a time when homosexuality was still seen by many as a deviant practice.

In just a few short months, the rights and equality Del Martin worked so hard for, will one again be challenged as California voters face a yes or no decision on proposition eight: “Change the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.” 

As San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who officiated at Martin and Lyon’s wedding, said, “The greatest way we can honor the life work of Del Martin, is to continue to fight and never give up, until we have achieved equality for all.”

Thank you to Del Martin for a lifetime of service to humanity, and the deepest condolences to her partner of so many years, Phyllis Lyon.