2024-07-23 7:05 PM

Nicholas F. Benton: Proposition 8’s Pyrrhic Victory

While the optimism and hope generated from last week’s historic presidential election returns have the nation, and much of the world, still aglow, there’s one segment of the pro-Obama population whose emotions are mixed, at best.

A mean-spirited effort led by religious fundamentalists and Mormons to quash a court ruling in California legalizing gay marriage resulted in a statewide ballot referendum that narrowly passed in the same historic election.

A massive mobilization nationally by lesbian and gay organizations and their friends, albeit overshadowed by the Obama tidal wave, raised millions in a full-forced effort to defeat the infamous Proposition 8, but it could not match the fundraising and zealous efforts of the religious right.

Anger and disappointment have eclipsed the joy of Obama’s victory in the passions of millions, nationwide, as a result. Huge, simultaneous demonstrations are being planned in major cities from coast to coast against the Proposition 8 vote to disenfranchise the rights of significant segment of U.S. society.

It is particularly painful that the vote to consciously deny a civil right for lesbians and gays came from voters who, in the same election, carried a landslide majority for Obama in the same state.

It certainly does underscore the fact that the battle for the “self-evident truth that all men are created equal” has always been a matter of uneven struggles with fits and starts, gains and setbacks.

But in the Proposition 8 case, it is a pyrrhic victory for the hateful forces of reaction. The cruel irony of achieving the pinnacle in the struggle for racial equality in the same election where fundamental rights are stripped from another class of persons is not being lost on the nation.

It is only a matter of time, in the wake of the Obama cultural paradigm shift, before that last class of Americans institutionally discriminated against will also enjoy its full share of equality under the law.

It may be the U.S. Supreme Court, perhaps augmented by a couple of justices appointed by Obama, that overturns the outcome of Proposition 8 as unconstitutional. That will end that brand of discrimination, once and for all, at least in the law. The preconditions for that were already set in the Supreme Court’s landmark Lawrence Vs. Texas ruling in November 2003, when it ruled that sodomy laws constituted discrimination against a whole class of persons otherwise entitled to equal protection under the law.

But long before that might happen, millions of Americans are already rethinking their attitudes on the subject, now that the hypnotic hold of the religious right has been wrested from the national psyche, and that the pro-equal rights legions of lesbians and gays and their friends have been sparked into action.

One of the most eloquent expressions of this on-going social transformation came from Keith Olbermann, a newsman and commentator on the MSNBC all news television network this week. Olbermann, a former ESPN sportscaster famous in recent years as a progressive, rational counterpoint to such rug-eaters as Bill O’Reilly on Fox, delivered a six-minute commentary on the Proposition 8 outcome.

Maintaining his SportsCenter demeanor throughout, and disclosing at the outset that he’s straight and barely knows anyone who’s not, so as not to have a personal stake in his comments, Olbermann unleashed one of the most frank and moving commentaries in this writer’s experience. It can be found on YouTube, merely by typing Olbermann and Proposition 8 in the “search” box. Watching this will be one of the most valuable six minutes a person can spend, as it has been for about 350,000 YouTube viewers so far.

From this straight man’s point of view, Olbermann asks why anyone would want to deny happiness to someone else, the way that the passage of Proposition 8 has done. To his straight-forward logic, it’s not a matter of religion or equal rights, it’s a simple matter of human happiness and love. What religion, what set of personal values, he intones, can possibly justify denying the opportunity for companionship in a cold and lonely world, to anyone who is seeking it?

He put his argument in the context of the 16 states that outlawed interracial marriage as recently as 1967, and the abject lack of moral justification for that.

The commentary struck just the right tone of sincere and resolute moral umbrage against the hateful excesses of the religious right that will be the hallmark of the new America under Barack Obama.





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