When second class equals victory


Danny Westneat devoted a column earlier this week to gloating over Washington state’s Referendum 71 vote, and all of its significance:

Gays can’t win at the ballot box.

That has always been the harsh reality. Put the subject of equality for gays and lesbians to a vote of the people — practically any people, in states from deep red to dark blue — and the people have always said: “No. Not here. Not yet.”

Until — it appears — now. Right here.

There’s a week’s worth of ballot-counting remaining in an election everyone is saying is too-close-to-call. But it appears Washington state will be the first in America to approve a gay-equality measure not by court fiat or legislative action, but by the direct will of the people.

It’s never happened before. If the slim lead holds for the gay-partnership law Referendum 71, it would be a landmark. Huge.

Not because the law that was on the ballot Tuesday is the last word in this debate.

But because the vote signals, finally, a tipping point of sorts — a bellwether of public acceptance — that has eluded gays and lesbians forever.

Yes, a town here or a county there has voted on the pro-gay side over the years. Usually to bar overt acts of discrimination against gays (which Seattle voters did way back in 1978).

But no state has ever approved a pro-gay vote. The opposite, in fact — dozens of states have voted overwhelmingly to outlaw gay marriage, domestic partnerships or even the ability to adopt kids. Those votes actively consigned gays and lesbians to second-class-citizen status.

In 1997, even supposedly liberal, libertarian Washington rejected a gay anti-discrimination law by a landslide, 60 percent to 40 percent. That vote set back the drive for gay equality here by nearly a decade.

And on Tuesday, voters in Maine repealed a gay-marriage law that had been passed by that state’s Legislature.

The vote here on Tuesday was far from a landslide. But in it you could see the slow wheel of societal change turning ….

All of that, and more, in this vote, in which supporters have claimed as theirs, and currently stands at 52-48% in favor, leaving opponents to pray against. Westneat’s column is obviously not written for homosexuals, but rather that potentially-sizeable bloc of readers for whom this vote was a significant milestone in their own personal evolution. This is a feelgood moment, of a sort. After all, voters have apparently approved a law that would have already been law had some people not chosen to challenge it at the ballot box. Good to know the people are on board, but the writing was prominently scrawled on the proverbial wall. We’ve already been through a gay marriage fight and people know it’s coming eventually. This was an easy wrangling of the conscience; this was an easy vote.

Let us pause to consider again:

But no state has ever approved a pro-gay vote. The opposite, in fact — dozens of states have voted overwhelmingly to outlaw gay marriage, domestic partnerships or even the ability to adopt kids. Those votes actively consigned gays and lesbians to second-class-citizen status.

And so does this, Mr. Westneat. So does this.

When victory means second class? Putting it gently as such, it means tomorrow there is still work to do.

Okay, so it’s not as if Westneat is completely oblivious. He does frame a reasonable historical perspective:

When it comes to gay acceptance, that shift [of the political center] has now happened. That’s the big story of Election 2009. And it’s going to keep inching like that, a mostly one-way tide. Toward equality.

Everything But Marriage

Everything but marriage ....

The measure is, after all, referred to colloquially as “Everything But Marriage”, and that reputation will serve the general purpose well, reminding of people’s determination to be exclusive: Fine, you can have all the bells and whistles and trappings of marriage, but you can’t call it marriage. Only we get to call our marriage ‘marriage’.

The thing is that society can make homosexuals jump through every conceivable hoop, and when people finally run out of excuses, there will still be those who oppose the obvious and inevitable. It doesn’t matter to these people if they lose. They just want everybody else to be miserable along the way.

I mean, how else do you spend so much of your time concentrating on something you so loathe thinking about?

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