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California Proposition 8: a Stain on Freedom's Flag

For the first time in our nation's history, a decisive majority of voters chose a brilliant and eloquent African‑American man bearing a message of hope and cooperation, for US President. Yet at the same time voters stripped rights from a minority group.

by Tim Barrett

My balloon of joy over November's Presidential election is undeniably punctured by my utter dismay at the passage of California's Proposition 8. For the first time in our nation's history, a decisive majority of voters chose a brilliant and eloquent African‑American man bearing a message of hope and cooperation, to lead us in the new millennium. Yet at the same time voters in my adopted state stripped rights from a minority group, rights only recently granted by the state Supreme Court. How could this be?

I arrived in California almost forty years ago in a brightly painted VW microbus on a quest for personal freedom of expression. I was barely an adult, and I crossed the entire length of the state savoring the ocean air and the possibilities it wafted forth. In a short time reports of my artistic, musical, and social discoveries influenced all of my siblings to relocate here and free their souls from the frozen conventions of our New England homeland. I embraced and savored the sweet freedom on all fronts—marching with tens of thousands of war protesters down Market Street, starting a sign painting business with little more than a can of paint and a brush, playing loud rock music to ecstatic throngs jamming the length of Haight Street, living for free on a friend's boat anchored in San Francisco Bay, legally buying high‑quality cannabis at the medical marijuana dispensary, and jumping naked into the Pacific Ocean. I raised a freethinking child of my own. Countless times I have been awash in gratitude for my good fortune as the setting sun sinks into the sea.

But the freedom has not been free, and for my brother Peter, the price was tragically high. He was a colorful exponent of personal expression, a worshipper at the altar of unbridled eros, and a warrior for gay rights. I held his hand as he lost his battle with the evil illness known by the evil acronym HIV‑AIDS. After all the years of struggle for equality and the battle against deadly disease, what would he think of a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage? I can't think otherwise that he would be, as I am, appalled and deeply saddened.

We search for explanations. Nancy Pelosi has said she thinks some people misunderstood the measure, thinking it a referendum on one's stance regarding homosexuality, not realizing their vote would revise the state constitution. This notion would make more sense if the yes/no question was reversed; that is, if you voted YES in favor of gay rights and NO if you wished to deny them. The Latino community that voted in high numbers for Obama also voted in favor of discrimination, perhaps indoctrinated by their Christian faith. Is it that threatening that some people they may not like want to marry? Are they that homophobic? I remember great late nights at La Rondalla in the Mission district consorting with gaggles of lace‑ clad Mexican transvestites who flirted wildly with day laborers and white boys alike over margaritas and chimichangas. Black voters also turned out in record numbers to help elect the first of their color to our highest office, while at the same time choosing, apparently, to forget their own struggle for civil rights and to deny rights to another minority, some of which, of course, are also black. And the Mormon church, an institution invented by men who inexplicably desired more than one wife, lobbied hard to infect gullible voters with their message of intolerance and fear. And indeed, they were able to make their case using Obama's own voice describing his Christian belief that membership in the marriage club is exclusively bi‑gender.

I once fell in love with a formerly‑Mormon girl. Because the Mormon church had officially disavowed polygamy before she was born, she was understandably shocked to discover during her childhood that her Mormon household was not the only one of which her father was head. He secretly kept a second entirely separate wife and family, which suddenly explained his frequent absences and her family's thin finances. When they discovered they had half‑ siblings in another town, the deception and hypocrisy caused lasting pain for her and her (coincidentally) gay brother. They both denounced their upbringing and fled to that mythical oasis of tolerance, San Francisco. By the time we met, her emancipation was in full flower, complimenting my own and kindling our romantic conflagration.

We got married on a glorious June Sunday that also happened to be Gay Pride Day. My bride¹s Mormon relatives arrived from out of town, and, having baked the wedding cake as their gift to us, were alarmed to discover that no one had thought to provide paper plates on which to serve the iconic confection. The whole carload of them set off on a mission to purchase the necessary paperware. As they were about to cross a busy downtown intersection, police halted their progress to allow a large section of the Gay Day parade to pass by. Dykes on bikes, drag queens in full regalia, leather boys on leashes, homos, fairies, girlie‑men, bull daggers, rug munchers, fudge packers, flaming faggots, and queers of every day‑ glo stripe and color flaunted by before their horrified eyes. As if they¹d been dipped in the burning lakes of hell—to our stifled delight—the mortified Mormons returned to the wedding party in full apoplexy.

Thirty years later, they haven't gotten over it. Instead, they've slithered their way into the mechanism of political action to poison legions of fearful folks who think being gay—like being religious—is a personal choice. This time around, the delight is theirs. They've forced us all to feel the confines of their temple garments. But bigotry fueled by ignorance and financed by religion isn¹t part of the freedom I thought I'd found, and in the name of tolerance, cannot be tolerated. Thankfully, the media is alive with this story, and the streets are full of outraged protesters, activists, freethinkers, and freedom‑fighters.

May our voices be heard, and may this regrettable stain on the fabric of political (which is to say, human) evolution be soon washed clean.

Tim Barrett is a citizen, musician, graphic designer and principal of Tim Barrett Creative in Fairfax, California.

Copyright © Tim Barrett 2008. All rights reserved.