November 4, 2008, was a day to celebrate. All Americans, regardless of party or ideology, should recognize that Barack Obama’s election says something good about our nation’s ability to overcome a long and shameful history of discrimination.
But change did not arrive for everyone. Ballot measures denying basic rights to gay Americans passed in Arizona, Florida, California and Arkansas. My friend Evan Smith put it this way: “We took one giant step forward for America and then took one step back for our gay friends.”
Clearly, we still have work to do.
Can you imagine any straight couple living in fear and uncertainty about whether their marriage, entered into as a loving lifetime commitment, would be undermined or dissolved at any time by the state? Well, that’s exactly what has happened for 18,000 gay couples in California who were legally married — and who now find their unions placed in limbo.
Susan Reed of California shared her experiences living with this kind of painful and discomfiting indignity:
I live in California. I have been with my wife for almost 13 years. We married almost 10 years ago, and then again in 2004, and then just a couple of months ago. We now have 2 beautiful children, ages 14 months and almost 3. And yet, though we feel like we did everything “right” in loving and supporting each other and our children, we know the law doesn’t recognize our marital relationship.
And it isn’t only adults who are being punished by legal barriers of intolerance. The Arkansas measure also prohibited unmarried couples, regardless of sexual orientation, from becoming foster parents or adopting children. Since gay couples in Arkansas can’t be married, they can’t provide foster care or adopt children — in a state in which more than 9,000 children, at any given time, desperately need stable and loving homes.
But if the people who voted for these restrictive measures think we’re going to give in and go home, they’ve got another thing coming. California Governor Schwarzenegger urged supporters of gay marriage to follow the lesson he learned as a weightlifter. “I learned that you should never, ever give up.” And we’re not going to.
Despite these hurtful setbacks, change really is in the air. We must not forget that on November 4 millions of voters proudly stood up for the rights of gay Americans to marry. This time it was the losing cause — but it won’t be for long. And our great nation that once denied African-Americans their freedom … and denied women the right to vote … will one day look back and shake our heads remembering that there was a time when only some loving adult couples could marry.
That will be a proud day for you, and for me, and for all who will never give up the fight for dignity and rights for our gay friends and family members.