Why We Will Not Go Home

Last night was a protest against Prop 8 at Orange Circle. This is right in the middle of Orange County, CA, one of the nation’s most conservative counties, a county that I have had mixed feelings about calling home ever since I moved here 10 years to go to school. This protest was different in a number of ways from the other civil rights protests I have been to since the election. This one was smaller than many of the other protests I have been to, though by the time I left it had grown to around 50 people, which is not bad I suppose for being behind the Orange Curtain. We were plenty loud and received many honks from cars and cheers from pedestrians. We also received something else that I have not yet experienced at any of the other protests I have been to. I have not encountered this in Long Beach or L.A. where most of the sideliners were either supportive or indifferent. There was a counter protest in L.A. last Saturday but it was extremely small and too far from my spot in the sea of civil rights activists to be able to hear anything they were trying to say. Last night was, however, my first civil rights protest in Orange County, behind the Orange Curtain. And while there was a counter protest of one, it was the things being yelled at us by many of the people driving by that provided a unique and perhaps disheartening experience relative to the other civil rights events I have attended thus far.

Fag lovers! I hate fags! God hates fags!. Such words were thrown at us a number of times. We responded with quips such as, “Tell me something I didn’t know!” (in response to the fag lovers comment), “Jesus loves me, why don’t you?”, and “Jesus loves you.” One man who was walking around the outside of the circle with his wife yelled at us to get out of HIS town. We all immediately started shouting back for him to get out of our town. Perhaps that was not the best way to reach out and unite people, it even sounds cheesy and lame when I read it here in words, but it was quite heated, serious, and emotional in the moment. People calling you names and discriminating against you for exercising your first amendment rights, for being open and accepting, for choosing love over separation and discrimination, for fighting for people’s equality and dignity, it can really hurt and at least in me it seems to strike at primal defense mechanisms, igniting a passion that in my heart screams FIGHT!!!. Fight or flight. I am obviously not running.

It is really sad that we have only come so far that in the 21st century people are actually voting to take rights away from anyone at all let alone dedicated, hardworking, and contributing members of our society. On the one hand, it depresses me and makes me think it is all worthless, pointless if more than half of a century after a decade long fight for civil rights we are actually still fighting the same fight. Have we not grown at all? Is the progress we thought we had made in fact anything more than cosmetic? On the other hand, all of the people who are coming together, taking to the streets and taking a stand against bigotry and oppression, I can not help but feel some hope. It is very confusing and conflicting.

Another thing we heard, which was not surprising, but that we still have not heard yet at any other protest was people yelling at us that, “It’s already over!” “The vote is already over, you lost!” Are we really supposed to think that if Prop 8 failed conservatives would have let the issue drop? Are we supposed to believe that they would not be appealing the state Supreme Court’s decision to the national Court? There would be no conservatives in the streets protesting against gay marriage and “the destruction of the traditional family?” Are we really supposed to believe this? Roe v. Wade was 35 years ago, 1973, and many conservatives still have not stopped fighting to criminalize abortion. I still see those vans armed with huge pictures of fetuses from botched abortions.

In May of 2008, eight years after the 2000 vote in which California voters passed Prop 22 banning same-sex marriage, the state Supreme Court rightly overturned the law as unconstitutional (for an explanation of why it is unconstitutional see my article, “The Constitutionality of California’s Marriage Amendment”). And so, just because two weeks ago voters barely passed a law which is virtually identical to the overturned one, a law which not only denies an entire group of people a right that every one else enjoys, but a law which actually TAKES AWAY a right from a group of people after it had been granted, we are supposed to just sit down and shut up. We are supposed to go home because the vote is over and we lost. We are supposed to stop fighting for fairness, equality, and civil rights. We are supposed to let you get away with putting equality and civil rights in our state to a vote. How dare you! How dare you vote to relegate a segment of our population to the status of second class citizens! How dare you put love and the right to legally express and recognize love between two people, any two people to a vote! How dare you force me or anyone else to live by your religious social and moral code! How dare you pretend that anyone else’s marriage has anything to do with you and your family in any way!

Barely half of the voters spoke by voting yes on Prop 8. Almost as many spoke by voting no. It was a very closely divided vote. With that in mind we had better shut up now and stay oppressed for all eternity because a little majority spoke. The problems that this poses with regard the nature of our state and nation’s system of government are obvious.

Federalism. Checks and balances.

These are the foundations of our nation’s system of government. The majority does not always rule, I am in this case happy to break the news to you. In fact, when the majority of American voters voted for Al Gore in 2000 and the U.S. Supreme Court turned around and declared Bush the winner, I did not hear any conservatives shouting and pouting about majority rules or activist judges. It is funny how the idea of majority rules is only a dearly held ideal when one is actually on the side of the majority. I think this can be said on both sides of the political aisle. Regardless, our nation’s founders were very careful to create ways through which groups who are in a minority of any kind can be protected from a tyranny of the majority. Knowing this, the idea that we would go home and shut up just because a small number of people voted in a particular way is not only an insult, but it flies in the face of the very nature and ideals of our nation’s founding and our systems of government as they have developed over the last two centuries. It speaks to the black/white, right/wrong, no middle ground delusion of a reality in which many conservatives, and indeed many people in general live, love, and learn.

Aside from the unconstitutionality of the law and from the problems that expecting the vote to end the issue poses to the fabric our nation and state’s system of checks and balances, there is also a problem with claiming that any kind of majority in California has spoken through the passage of Prop 8. At this point a look at some numbers would be enlightening. Roughly 6.3 million people voted yes on Prop 8 (source). While that may be 52% of those who voted, it is only 23% of our state’s voting age population, which the U.S. census places at 27.2 million (source). It is only 17% of our state’s total population, which the census puts at approximately 36.5 million people in 2006 (source). Majority? I think not. Of course any vote could questioned in this way. I am not suggesting that all votes should be voided because most people do not vote. If that were the case we may as well just end the voting process, or force everyone to vote. In fact, this is a whole other subject of inquiry that I am not going to get into at this time and in this article.

I think the numbers are quite telling. Did the majority of the state really speak in passing Prop 8? That does not appear to be the case. In fact less than 25% of those who are eligible to vote voted in favor of this blasphemous proposition. In addition, it is well known that there are more liberals who stay home on voting day than conservatives. Democrats always benefit from higher voter turn out because they have more registered voters than do Republicans. Republicans always benefit from lower voter turnout because they have less voters, but vote more regularly and consistently (this begs another question which is beyond the scope in this article, the question of whether America is really a center-right nation, something I have heard from any number of pundits since November 4th, 2008 when Obama was elected and Democrats increased their numbers to strong majorities in both houses of Congress amid record voter turnouts across the nation). In 2004 the Democratic Party had 72 million registered members and the Republican Party had about 55 million. In addition there were about 42 million people registered as Independents (source).

U.S. Political Party Affiliation

U.S. Political Party Affiliation

(source)

This is why it is always conservatives that we hear about trying to suppress votes by passing out fliers that say Democrats vote on Wednesday instead of Tuesday. This is why all the crappy voting machines and the road blocks and other such things that make voting difficult seem always to make their way into minority neighborhoods that traditionally favor Democrats quite heavily. It is because Republican activists know that their party, that conservative America, is in the minority. They know that the only way they can win elections at the national level, and often times even at the state level is if most people, either by choice or through intimidation and suppression tactics, do not vote.

This poses its own problem, of course. If liberals would actually vote regularly then the face of our country and in fact its heart and soul would perhaps appear very differently right now from the way in which it actually does. Along these lines, to suggest that because such a small percentage of the population voted to take gay rights away we should shut up and go home, that we should stop fighting, that we should just accept discrimination, this is not only the most insulting part of yesterday’s experience, but I think it is the most telling and perhaps the most dangerous. When people are chided and ridiculed for exercising their first amendments rights, when we are expected to forgo those rights because some sort of tiny and narrow majority voted in a particular way, it threatens the very fabric of our freedom and democracy. It is all the more reason that we need to continue taking to the streets. It is all the more reason why we can not stop fighting, we can not let this movement fall from the eye of the complacent public until we are victorious in guaranteeing equal rights for everyone! It is not only about fighting for those equal rights, it is also about fighting to ensure that we retain the right to fight against injustice in the face of those who would take all of these rights away, those who would tell us to shut up and go home because a few voters have spoken. I say NO. We say NO. See you in the streets.

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