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Someday, I Will Be Brief Again. For Now, Here’s Prop 8.

I don’t know how to speak about Prop 8 yet. (Maybe I shouldn’t try? Ha, what are the chances of that?) It is not an unfamiliar thing to me, this vote, nor is the thinking behind it. If you want a really ugly look at the place where I grew up, check this out:

A crucial electoral battleground state, Ohio hasn’t done well during the Bush era. In the last four years, it’s lost a quarter million jobs. A report from the U.S. Census Bureau recently rated Cleveland the poorest big city in the country. Young people are leaving the state in droves. In August, Brent Larkin, editorial page director of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, wrote about Ohio’s “raging brain drain.”

But even as the state’s economy decays, its big evangelical churches are thriving, and, with the tacit support of the national Republican Party, they have mobilized behind Issue 1. Preachers are exhorting flocks of thousands to vote their values in an election said to pit light against darkness. Ohio’s gay citizens, a minority courted by no one, have been blindsided by the campaign against them.

Yup, that’s the Ohio I know: limited prospects, low expectations, a powerful, widespread, and openly hateful evangelical culture, and a corresponding exodus of young and/or smart people, which, while entirely understandable (who could stay, really?) kept the state vulnerable to said evangelical culture, and led it to vote against its own economic interests (in favor of Bush, twice – although the last was partly due to widespread disenfranchisement of voters of color, who trended Democratic, and have I mentioned yet that Ohio is pretty racist?) and in favor of what was at the time of its introduction the strictest anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment in the nation.

If passed, Issue 1 will force Ohio’s cities and universities to stop offering domestic partner benefits, including health insurance. Right now, such benefits are offered by the city of Columbus, Ohio’s Miami University, Ohio University and Ohio State University, the largest university in America. Cleveland Heights has a domestic partnership registry, and some Ohio public schools give gay employees family leave to care for ailing partners. Issue 1 would probably mean they could no longer do so.

It passed. These things happened.

The amendment’s impact won’t stop there. “Because the state can’t create any legal status for unmarried couples, it’s very possible that domestic-violence protection orders could no longer be used if there’s a domestic violence situation with an unmarried couple,” says Alan Melamed, an attorney and chairman of the anti-Issue 1 group Ohioans Protecting the Constitution. Private companies can continue to offer domestic partner benefits, he adds, but “if the employee feels that those benefits were being improperly denied, an employee won’t be able to go to court and enforce those benefits.”

It passed. These things happened. Twice, actually, abused straight women were denied justice in domestic violence cases – not because they hadn’t been abused (they definitely had been) but because they weren’t married to the partners who had abused them. The cases were eventually overturned (which I do not imagine would have happened had the couples in question not been straight), but imagine being those women – imagine being told that you’d have to marry your abuser in order to successfully press charges against him.

Without compromising the centrality of rights for GLBTIQ people, or reducing GLBTIQ rights to a subset of feminism, it is important to note that this actually demonstrates a key aspect of the anti-gay-marriage agenda – not simply the blatant denial of rights to queers (as if that weren’t enough) but the delegitimization of any partnership that is not heterosexual marriage. Just as anti-abortion activists don’t want to stop with outlawing late-term abortions or abortions in general, but set an agenda that restricts access to emergency contraception and birth control – thereby seeking to make sure that women can only have sex in relationships where giving birth to and raising a child would be a viable possibility – anti-gay-marriage activists seek not only to restrict the rights of queers, but to enforce traditional gender roles, making sure that women know their only real value to society lies in their capacity to marry straight men and bear their children. The term “traditional marriage” – which calls to mind, for many people, a pre-feminist past – is not lightly chosen.

Of course, most Ohio voters weren’t briefed on the actual legal and civil consequences of Issue 1. Instead, they were subjected to an organized campaign of disinformation from the evangelical culture, and were told that God would hate them and Satan would triumph if they voted against it, in a campaign that was explicitly political, explicitly in violation of the separation of church and state, and entirely aware of that fact.

USA Today reports that Rod Parsley, pastor of Ohio’s 12,000-member World Harvest Church, has “assembled a list of 100,000 Ohio acolytes, all of whom will be called by the World Harvest Church on the eve of the election, reminding them to vote.” The newspaper pointed out that Parsley held a September meeting of 200 Ohio ministers to explain that they could advocate for the supposedly nonpartisan Issue 1 without losing their nonprofit tax status.

The World Harvest Church is located in my home town of Columbus, by the way. Go. Fucking. Buckeyes.

So, if you went to church in my hometown of Columbus, in my home state of Ohio, this is what you heard from the evangelical culture which has been seeking (and attaining, in many cases) complete ideological control of that state’s voters:

Nearly an hour and a half passes before Parsley starts preaching in earnest to a crowd that is by then happily worn out and receptive. Christianity is under siege, he tells his audience. Interlopers from out of state have come to Ohio, “going door to door, knocking on doors so we can continue to murder babies and further strip the church of its First Amendment rights through hate crimes legislation.” Gay marriage, he says, heralds “the annihilation of a civilization.”

“Everybody shout yes on Issue 1!” he yells. “Yes on Issue 1!”

Let’s chew on that sentence for a while, shall we? Strip the church of its First Amendment rights through hate crimes legislation. Strip the church of its First Amendment rights through hate crimes legislation. Strip the church of its First Amendment rights. Through hate crimes legislation.

In the town where I grew up, in the state where I grew up, the people who actively seek to control the ideological and moral discourse (“reject the Christian ethic and you have no basis for making moral judgments,” says another man quoted in the article, just before endorsing capital punishment for homosexuality) tell their parishioners that it is within their “rights” to commit hate crimes.

I tell you all of this – I tell you about Ohio – because, in the past week, I’ve heard people talk about Prop 8 as if it were the only anti-gay piece of legislation that had been passed in this country. It wasn’t; in this election alone, gay marriage bans were passed in Arizona and Florida, and Arkansas passed a law which prohibits “unmarried couples” from adopting. In each case, they were backed by substantial organization and campaigning by that evangelical culture. The evangelical culture speaks the language of “states’ rights” when it suits them, but it is a movement which pursues its goals on a national level; plenty of out-of-state evangelical resources were poured into the Prop 8 campaign. If we speak entirely in terms of California without addressing the anti-gay legislation passed elsewhere, or if we leave California to the Californians, then we play directly into their hands. These people stick together. These people work on a national level. So should we.

Of course, it’s harder to stick together when we can’t stop attacking each other. I’ve heard, over and over, that Prop 8 passed due to the homophobia of black voters. Yes, black voters did vote for Prop 8 by the widest margin, but Disgrasian points out that their votes alone were not enough to guarantee Prop 8’s passing, and it is utterly ridiculous to suggest that they were solely responsible for it.

[You could] say, since the margin between for and against came down to 500,000 votes out of 10 million, If only we had gotten 100% of the African-American vote against 8, we would have had this in the bag. How dare They. But what if we had gotten 100% of the Asian and “Other” vote against Prop 8, which would have been an increase of 450,000 votes, and, like, 1% percent more of the white vote? What if we had gotten 75% of the Latino vote, instead of 47%? Or what if we had gotten 59% of the white vote against Prop 8 instead of 51%, the most achievable statistical increase? What if we didn’t put the outcome of gay marriage all on one group, and if we had gotten 6.5% more of the white vote (+409,500), 3% more of the Latino vote (+54,000), 2% more of the black vote (+20,000), and 2% more of the Asian and Other vote (+18,000)? Or any combination therein?

That kind of analysis has been sorely lacking in progressive discussion, however. Instead, what I’ve heard (from white, pro-queer voters) has mostly been along the lines of, how could They – and after we voted Obama in for Them and everything! First of all, a minority of white voters went for Obama. Most voted for the white guy. Second, it is disgusting to pull the patronizing white liberal shit – after all we’ve done for You People! – and to suggest that your vote for a man of color was some sort of favor done for the black community, as if you in no way stood to benefit from it. Third, shaming and raging against a racially marginalized group is not only racist but stupid, because the passing of Prop 8 can be directly traced to an organized group with a clear agenda who poured money and organizing time into it in massive amounts. I would bet my entire next paycheck that evangelical voters went for Prop 8 by a higher margin than black voters, Latino voters, Asian voters, white voters, female voters, male voters, or any other demographic assembled on the basis of race or gender.

Again: these people are sticking together. No matter how racist certain white evangelicals are (and a lot of them really, really are) they have no problem with reaching out to communities of color if it will help them to achieve something they want. It says something if pro-queer white liberals are more willing to spout divisive rhetoric against the black community than racist white evangelicals who think that birth control pills and gay weddings will bring about the End of Days. Dividing ourselves and engaging in racial blaming now, after we’ve finally gained a mandate to govern from the left, is so self-destructive that it is unthinkable.

Yes, Prop 8 – and Issue 1, and all of the anti-gay legislation passed throughout this country – is wrong, and we need to overturn it. It is going to be very hard to do that, and it is going to take a very long time. Also, for the first time in eight years, we have the institutional power necessary to make some actual progress, if we can make sure that our elected officials are held accountable to their progressive base. So: everybody. Stop yelling. Get to work.