Revolution #148, November 23, 2008
A Basic Right!
A Just Demand!
“I know what can happen if you really don’t have marriage equality under the law and a lot of the rights that are bestowed on heterosexuals just for being married are just not granted. I know what can happen to you in a hospital, like my partner’s dying and I can’t come in the room, or my second cousin, who I haven’t seen in 20 years, can come and take the house we built with our bare hands. It’s not ok, it’s not fair, it’s not right and I would even say it’s amoral.”—A Black lesbian speaking to Revolution at a protest at the Mormon temple in Oakland
On November 4, after a vicious, multi-million dollar campaign spearheaded by right-wing Christian organizations, Proposition 8 passed, changing the California Constitution to declare, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized,” eliminating the right of gays and lesbians to marry. A fundamental human right was stripped away from millions of people in the state.
Similar constitutional bans were also passed in Florida and Arizona. Arkansas passed a law which was meant to prevent gay partners from adopting children. Forty-one states have statutes and/or constitutional provisions that prohibit same-sex marriage.
Protests: “We Will Not Be Quiet”
The day following the election, disbelief and tears turned to anger and outrage. Ten thousand people poured into the streets of West Hollywood. Tens of thousands marched in San Francisco on November 7, blocking intersections and chanting, “We will not be quiet!” Many people have righteously demonstrated at Mormon temples, including 3,000 people in Salt Lake City. Protests and marches, in cities big and small, across California and across the country, spread through Facebook and MySpace, blogs, websites, and text messaging,
Calls have gone out for protests on November 15, and as we go to press, marches and rallies are taking place in more than 300 cities in every state in the U.S., and in other countries as well. The group Join the Impact! called on “LGBTQ Community, Friends and Family” and issued a call for protest: “We will not step down, we will not be silenced, and we will not compromise our rights!”
San Francisco city officials, joined by the city of Los Angeles and Santa Clara and Los Angeles counties have asked the California Supreme Court to overturn Prop 8, and gay rights legal advocacy groups are filing suits. The legal challenge can help inspire and provide additional openings for the struggle in the streets. And, in turn, that struggle—in the streets—will be decisive in rolling back this attack.
It is inspiring that at this moment, a movement is coming into the streets that is not “waiting and seeing” what Obama will do (he has already made clear he opposes gay marriage, and the shameful silence of his campaign had a lot to do with the proposition passing).
Such protest is exactly what is needed! Proposition 8 was an attack on a basic fundamental right and everyone—gay or straight, of whatever nationality—who cares about justice and humanity needs to join in the protests. Now.
It was only in June of this year that the California Supreme Court allowed gay marriage. Since then 18,000 couples were married, including couples who had been together for 30 or more years, whose love had been spit on, who had faced the constant threat of violence or even jail—for even showing affection in public. There were big celebrations and strangers brought flowers.
Now the right to marry has been ripped away with a vote. An outrageous precedent is being set: that any right of any group of people can now be put “up for a vote,” at the mercy of religious lunatics, people locked in the grip of ignorance and fascist manipulators. This must not stand!
The passage of this amendment goes beyond the right to marry. It is part of a whole fascist agenda being pushed by powerful ruling class forces. “They’re going after not only gay rights, but women’s right to abortion, they want to teach creationism in the schools. It’s got to stop,” an ex-Mormon man told Revolution at a protest. A Latina lesbian told Revolution, “We’re humans, we’re not just a piece of dirt and we deserve our rights to marry. We’re here and we’re not going anywhere.”
A law professor at Lake Forest University wrote, “Imagine systematically denigrating a segment of the population and then believing that the consequences stop with the law on the books, without any real-world ramifications.” How could this not give a green light to more violence against gay men and lesbians?
All this sends the message that gays and lesbians are less than human, a message that is internalized and then acted upon by many people with terrible results. In this country gay youth commit suicide at a reported rate of one every six hours because of the unrelenting harassment they face. Many people have heard of the brutal killing of Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, who, in 1998, was robbed, pistol whipped, tortured, tied to a fence in a remote, rural area, and left to die. This was not an isolated incident. In 2004 Scotty Joe Weaver, a gay teen in rural Alabama was tied up, tortured and partially decapitated before his killers set his body on fire. Danny Overstreet, a gay man, was murdered—and six others were shot—in Virginia by an assailant who allegedly carried out this murder in reaction to being ridiculed for having the last name “Gay.”
A Vicious Campaign
As soon as the California Supreme Court ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, right wing religious groups went ballistic and put an initiative on the ballot to change the State Constitution. Gay rights groups tried to legally block Prop 8 from getting on the ballot, but the Supreme Court denied this without giving a reason, clearing the way for the whole hateful, lying, vicious campaign. There was a conglomeration of right wing Christian churches and organizations that pulled out all the stops to make gay marriage a “line in the sand” that must not be crossed. Mormons, Catholics, and Protestant evangelicals threw in millions of dollars. The cost of the Prop 8 campaign was second only to the national presidential campaign.
The Mormon church told its members across the country that it was their duty to god to support the proposition and raised $20 million for the campaign and mobilized 25,000 Mormon foot soldiers from around the country to canvas precincts and stand on street corners with their signs. Now, after funding this massive campaign to rip away the rights of a section of people, the officials of the Mormon church are whining that protests at Mormon churches and offices “are not actions that are worthy of the democratic ideals of our nation.” Whether or not the Mormons—who as recently as 1978 removed official sections of their religious dogma that declared that Black men could not be priests in their church—might unintentionally be making a point about what the “democratic ideals of our nation” have really stood for, the hypocrisy of the Mormon church complaining about these protests is as absurd as it is obscene.
And Christian evangelicals have ramped up efforts to reach out and mobilize elements of the Black church behind Prop 8.
The Yes on 8 Campaign ran lying ads incessantly on the television with scary music and all the flair and bombast of a Nazi propaganda film. They portrayed same-sex marriage as a horror being forced on people, said that people would be sued over their personal beliefs and that churches would lose their tax exempt status and that first graders would be taught same-sex marriage in school against their parents’ wishes.
This campaign turned reality on its head. It is lesbians and gays who have been the victims of systematic discrimination, persecution, and violent suppression for centuries, enforced by bedroom police, the state, the church, and lynching-style violence. Proposition 8 was not about protecting school children—it was about using the power of the state to enforce cruel and reactionary morality on everyone in society.
And these efforts have powerful national backing. In 2006 George Bush called for a constitutional amendment that “defines marriage in the United States as the union of a man and woman.” Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin is also a proponent of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage.
Where Did Prop 8 Come From?
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said of Prop 8, “It’s more important than the presidential election. We’ve picked bad presidents before, and we’ve survived as a nation, but we will not survive if we lose the institution of marriage.” “This vote on whether we stop the gay-marriage juggernaut in California is Armageddon,” said Charles W. Colson, former Watergate conspirator and founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries.
Why did the “religious right” as they are politely called, identify Prop 8 as a do-or-die battle?
The reason lies deep within the whole oppressive setup that we live under. Under capitalism, the male-dominated family is an economic and social unit through which people raise children, and in general, survive. And the traditional “father knows best” family plays an integral role in enforcing the unequal and oppressive social roles where, for example, “boys learn to be boys,” and “girls learn to be girls.”
But tremendous changes in the world wrought by capitalism and imperialism, and profound changes in U.S. society in recent decades, have undermined the basis for this traditional family. Women are in the workforce in very large numbers (even while they are still expected to be the “homemaker” in families). In an overwhelmingly urban society, there is more freedom for lesbians and gays to “come out of the closet,” and form relationships. These changes in the world have given rise to great political struggle, which in turn forced some concessions. The Stonewall rebellion, an uprising of gay people in New York City in 1969 against abuse and legal discrimination, demanded equality for lesbians and gays, and helped usher in the era of gay pride.
For oppressed and exploited people, there is nothing to fear or resent at all in this! There is nothing to defend in the traditional family and the thinking it imposes and enforces. The struggle for gay rights should be supported by anyone opposed to oppression and discrimination. But these changes are seen by the powers-that-be as challenges to the social fabric that keeps traditional, oppressive social relations in place.
It is in the context of these, and other great stresses and strains on the social fabric of U.S. society, that Christian fascists, over a long period of time and with the support and backing of powerful forces in the ruling class, have become embedded in the highest levels of government and the command structure of the military. They have built up a social base of people who are literally afraid to think, and who are being trained not to think. And these forces are not going to disappear or turn less aggressive. These Christian fascists have emerged as a “legitimate” and powerful stream in society, and seek to impose traditional, Biblical morality and values on the whole of society—and to cohere it on that basis. Within that, the buttressing of the patriarchy—of women’s subordination to men—is foundational. It is a way of strictly ordering society, keeping women degraded and oppressed in a thousand ways. It is a way of keeping women and the family under the control of men. It enlists men in enforcing this oppression and inculcates into their thinking that their “rightful role” is the “head of the family,” so that they act as the “bourgeois” within the home. And these Christian fascists preach that this is all literally the word of god.
In this context, allowing gays and lesbians to marry is viewed by these reactionary forces as intolerable. It opens the door for people to step outside these narrow absolutist bounds. And when they refuse to remain in that narrow and rigid framework, when people question the way things are, when they begin to see marriage as a man-made institution and not a mandate from god—then this undermines and threatens the patriarchy—and the whole set-up.
And, while it is not fundamentally driving their aggressive attacks on the gay marriage laws, these Christian fascist forces also see the backwardness and confusion about homosexuality among significant sections of the population—like Blacks and Latinos—as something they can seize upon and manipulate to draw these sections of the people, people who are themselves oppressed, into the persecution and demonization of gays, and more generally into conservative and reactionary politics.
The fact that Prop 8 was even allowed on the ballot, and that the Obama campaign maintained essentially a shameful silence on it, is an indication of how much space even “mainstream” ruling class forces are giving to these Christian fascists. While they oppose elements of the agenda of the Christian fascists, these other ruling class forces also have a lot in common with them (see the sidebar, Obama, the System, and Proposition 8). They too fear society coming apart—and fear that disrupting the male dominated social order will open the door for a more fundamental disruption to their whole set up. They too see religion—and the strengthening of the traditional family and male right—as an important glue in cohering society.
• • •
As long as human society has been divided into exploiting and exploited classes, the male-dominated family has been a political, social, and economic unit of exploitive systems. Patriarchy—male domination—and the thinking that goes along with it, keeps the female half of humanity subjugated, and all of humanity chained to backward thinking and relationships. And while same-sex relationships, and their legitimization through marriage do not fundamentally challenge or overthrow this setup, this has been viewed by the ruling classes as an unacceptable “challenge” to the traditional, time-tested patriarchal family.
But the world does not need to be this way. This does not have to be a world where people are hounded, discriminated against, degraded, and killed for their sexual orientation. In today’s world, it is critical that everyone fight for “marriage equality.” And as we do that, those who really want to get beyond the subjugation of women and gays in society must link that struggle to a revolutionary movement, and a revolution that will allow humanity, for the first time, to envision and bring into being new forms of intimacy and relationships that are liberated from all the ugly traditional oppression of women.
This current battle over same-sex marriage is part of a larger battle over the whole direction of U.S. society. And right now there is a lot at stake in uniting many, many more people to step into the fight to beat back and defeat the reactionary attacks on the right to gay marriage in California and across the country.
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