Fight Back! News

News and Views from the People's Struggle

California: Reflections on the elections and Proposition 8

By Naomi Nakamura

Berkeley, CA – Tuesday, November 4, 2008 was a bittersweet evening for me. The sweetness came first, as I was driving my daughter home from a play rehearsal when I heard that Barack Obama had won the election for President of the United States. Later that evening the feeling faded as I watched the news showing that California Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage, was heading towards a narrow victory.

While I was too young to participate in the Civil Rights movement, I can remember the racial segregation that was commonplace in California in the early 1960s. I remember my parents complaining about the realtor who kept three lists of homes for sale – one for whites, one for Blacks, and one for “other” (meaning Asian Americans); and how a Asian American high-school friend of mine told me how her parents were visited by racist neighbors who offered to buy them out of their home in a formerly all-white neighborhood. When a Jewish synagogue was being built in our neighborhood flyers appeared on our porch in protest. I went with one of my best friends in elementary school who was African American to an all-Black swimming pool since many pools had banned Blacks. And I still remember my father's quiet anger after having to walk out of a restaurant that sat us for dinner and then acted if we weren't there and refused to take our order.

Until Barack Obama won the Iowa Democratic caucus in January, I never thought that the United States would elect an African American as president in my lifetime. Despite the growing number of high-profile Blacks in the government, military and corporate world, I could see the government's disdain for the masses of African American people in their response (or lack of one) to Hurricane Katrina and what has come to be ethnic cleansing of whole African American neighborhoods of New Orleans.

Many (including myself) worried about the so-called 'Bradley effect,' named after former Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley. Bradley, who was African American, was ahead in many polls in his campaign for governor of California in 1982, but lost to a white candidate. While there was little of this evident in the presidential campaign, and not enough to swing the election, there did seem to be a 'Bradley effect' at work in Proposition 8. While polls showed a narrow defeat for the same-sex marriage ban, it passed by a narrow margin (52% to 48%). While Californians were willing to elect a Black president by a large margin (61% to 37%), they were not able to back equality of marriage the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.

I was shocked to hear supporters of Proposition 8, some of whom were oppressed nationalities, use the same reasoning as the segregationists of the 1950s and 1960s. They railed at the California Supreme Court's recent decision to overturn the law banning same-sex marriage as going against the people's will. What do they think the historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court ruling was but overturning the Jim Crow segregation laws? Supporters of Proposition 8 also (falsely) claimed that California domestic partnership laws provided all the benefits of marriage. This is nothing but the old segregationist “separate-but-equal” argument in support of racial segregation in public schools.

At the same time I think that the 'No on 8' campaign was too dependent on an expensive media campaign and did too little grassroots organizing, especially in oppressed nationality communities. Some No on 8 organizers were told that all the signs were in English early in the campaign, and even into the last week before the vote, all in the information in languages other than Spanish and English had to be downloaded and printed by oneself. Supporters of the same-sex marriage bans were going door-to-door in parts of liberal Berkeley with no apparent similar efforts by the marriage equality advocates.

The struggle for marriage equality is not only an important civil rights struggle for the LGBT community, but is also a key battle against right-wing forces who are licking their wounds after the Democrats' victory. The one bright spot for the right were anti-same sex ballot initiatives, which passed in Arizona and Florida in addition to California.

Still, progressives did make gains in that the margin of defeat (4%) was much smaller than another same-sex marriage ban that passed in California just eight years ago by a 22% margin. Supporters of marriage equality have filed a lawsuit against Proposition 8, arguing that it was actually a constitutional revision (that is to say a fundamental change, that needs passage by the legislature to put on the ballot) and not an amendment. While I support this move (which from my reading of the California constitution is valid), we cannot solely rely on the courts. I have been heartened by the mass protests following the passage of Proposition 8. I have seen young people, who represent the future, get involved and politically active. I am happy that my middle-school daughter and my church are talking about the issue. I am confident of victory.

No H8! Overturn 8!

#BerkeleyCA #Proposition8 #SamesexMarriage #CivilRights