Ever since Proposition 8 passed Nov. 4, enshrining heterosexual-only marriage in the California Constitution, demonstrators from Sacramento to San Diego have staged daily marches and protests to express their anger and disappointment that homosexuals will continue to be treated as second-class citizens. It's a stirring movement, reminiscent of past civil rights struggles, but it raises a troubling question: Where were these marchers before the election?I wouldn't have put it this way during the campaign, but I think there was a sense of complacency on the part of many gays for most of the campaign. Ironically, I think that sense of complacency came in part from success; I have a feeling that many gay people currently living in California feel very comfortable being out, and experience little, if any, discrimination in their personal lives. If you're gay and living in a large metro area, say, San Fran or LA, you probably just don't know many people who would be opposed to gay marriage. So it didn't occur to most gay people in those cities that there are large parts of California where gay marriage is not accepted. I know one gay man, who has never mentioned any kind of gay activism, who was suddenly sending out passionate emails about Prop. 8 - two days before the election. He just bought a house with his boyfriend, and I think he was fully expecting that they would move in together and then get married. I don't think it occurred to him that Prop. 8 might pass until he saw the polls just before the election. Then he freaked. He was seriously depressed after Prop. 8 passed.
Like nearly every aspect of the fight against Proposition 8, the recent protests come too late to make a difference. Opponents of the measure ran a disorganized campaign that consistently underestimated the strength of the other side. Apparently lulled by poll numbers that showed the initiative was likely to fail, the campaign's fundraising efforts were lackluster -- until it discovered that the Yes on 8 side was raking in millions from Mormons and members of other churches. By the time fundraising began in earnest, there wasn't time to mount a strong opposition.
Laws banning gay marriage have passed in many states. If gay people are to achieve equality, all of those laws are going to have to be overturned. I am optimistic that will happen, eventually, but I am not optimistic that it is going to happen any time soon. But if there is a silver lining in this, it is that a large and powerful community has been awoken. There's an old saying in politics that people rebel when they have hope. My guess is that people in states in the heartland, where being gay is not quite as hip as it is in LA, never really expected to be able to get married. In California, they could, and they did. The ones who did were very happy. The ones who didn't are really, really pissed. Much as I am sorry for outcome, I am glad that the fight is alive and well.