November 9, 2009

Election Round-ups: What We've Lost and What We've Gained

As most of you are aware, last week many states across the U.S. held elections to vote on various propositions and mayoral positions. Included in this election cycle were a few pieces of legislation that have specific impact on LGBT Americans and their families, such as Referendum 71, making domestic partnerships completely equivalent to civil marriages in the state of Washington, the election of openly gay canditate Mark Kleinschmidt as mayor of Chapel Hill, NC, and the passage of Ordinacne 1856 in Kalamazoo, MI (where I grew up!), adding gay and transgender people to the city's pre-existing nondiscrimination ordinance.

But the most widely publicized and watched election last Tuesday was the Proposition 1 vote in Maine. With the opportunity to become the first state to legalize same-sex marriage through legislation as opposed to through the courts, Maine voters approved Prop 1 by a margin of 6%, striking down the law legalizing same-sex marriage in their state. Like California this time last year, Maine fell prey to the twisted lies and pandering of the opponents of marriage equality.

However, despite its similarities to Proposition 8, this loss did not feel the same as the one in California. On election night last year, I remember the feeling of elation as I stood and watched Obama's acceptance speech with a full heart and a heady spirit. And then I remember getting back to my room, receiving a phone call from my friend back home in San Diego letting me know that it was starting to look bad for marriage equality in California, telling me that H8 was pulling ahead. I stayed up that entire evening, obsessively refreshing the poll results. I went to class the next day, drained, burnt out, exhausted, all dregs of my euphoria and excitement from the night before long since crushed by the emotional rollercoaster of election night. Before I could even get angry I felt deflated, betrayed, and incredulous.

This time was different. Proposition 8 taught us to be cautious, to not assume that people will do the right thing if prompted by their leaders (in the courts or otherwise) to do so. Gone is the beguiling concept of a "new era" that clouded our perceptions of the race last year, allowed our loss to blindside us.

Our experience in California taught us that we could lose in Maine; it instructed us in how that loss might feel. More than that though, the passage of Proposition 8 demonstrated that these losses, these set backs, they will not define the success of this movement. They will not choke it, or bury it, or deal the final blow. These losses of equality ultimately will serve only to add fuel to our fire. They remind us that while progress can be won, it will not be handed to us. It must be fought for, and it must be taken. "Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals," (Martin Luther King, Jr). Such was the case in California, and once again in Maine. Far from being reasons to lose hope in our government, in our neighbors, or in ourselves, they should become our motivation, armed with the knowledge that through continued education of our peers and an openness about our lives and our humanity, we will be able repeal these hateful measures. And soon.

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