Thursday, November 6, 2008

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

I usually shy away from posting political commentary on my blog, but in the wake of Tuesday's historic election, I can't keep my thoughts to myself.

First, I am beyond thrilled by Barack Obama's victory. As a lifelong Democrat who doesn't think "liberal" is a dirty word, I'm pretty much always delighted when the Democratic candidate wins, and there certainly hasn't been a lot to celebrate on that front for the past eight years. And of course, there's no denying the cultural and moral significance of Americans' willingness to elect a black man as President of the United States.

But to me, Barack Obama is symbolic of something much more important and fundamental than either the return of common-sense progressive politics or the possibility of a truly post-racial America. No, the real breakthrough here is that Americans elected a person of relatively humble origins who truly earned every single one of his achievements through the application of intelligence, determination, and personal charisma.

I suppose it could be argued that Bill Clinton was cut from similar cloth with regard to personal biography, but he is a white man. The fact that Obama was able to win the presidency based on his merits despite his ethnic heritage (and notably, one of his parents was not an American citizen, which I think is unprecedented) says something profound about the possibility of our country becoming a true meritocracy.

And all I can say to that is halleluia! When voting, may we now truly measure the content of our politicians' character rather than the color of their skin or their gender or the depths of their daddies' pocketbooks or the number of American war heroes they can claim in their ancestry. Because in the end, I don't care who your parents are or what they did; I want to know who you are and what you will do.

Giddy as I am about the results of the presidential election, however, I am monumentally saddened by my fellow Californians' vote to overturn the right of same-sex couples to marry. The irony could not be deeper. On the day we broke a hole in the Berlin wall of racial division, we put up another one, affirming our right to discriminate against people who are different from us by a different measure of difference.

In my never to be humble opinion, the campaign against Proposition 8 was shameless in its fear-mongering. Over and over, they warned us that children would be taught about gay marriage against their parents' religious or moral objections (with the unspoken but obvious implication that our kids are in danger of being recruited to the "dark side" if they find out that same-sex marriage is legal). They told us churches would lose their tax-exempt status or be barred from operating publicly funded charities if they failed to perform same-sex weddings. Most vile though less obviously fear-mongering, they claimed that gay couples have all the rights of marriage because California has a domestic partnership law. Anyone recall Brown v. Board of Education? Separate can never be equal.

And yet, I retain a certain measure of hope and faith. Why? Because, in the deepest irony of all, our children are already comfortable with same-sex marriage. Now, no one polled the <18 crowd (sadly--the measure might have been defeated if they had; ), but people under 30 apparently voted strongly against the ban. (I haven't been able to find any statistics from exit polls, but if I do, I'll let you know.) So clearly, our kids have been hearing the message for some time now that homosexuality is not a characteristic on which it's okay to discriminate, any more than race or gender or eye color or shoe size.

It's no surprise, either. In my parents' generation, people rarely revealed their sexuality, and often entered heterosexual marriages solely to foster the impression that they were straight, leading to many an unhappy marriage and more than a few divorces--those are so good for kids. NOT. In my generation (I was born at the tag end of the baby boon), people really started coming out of the closet and tolerance has risen accordingly, although it's certainly by no means universal.

But in the generations after mine, openly gay people are a fact of life. My kids' generation has never known a time when homosexuality wasn't just...there, a natural part of the tapestry of their world. My son and his friends, who are between 11 and 12, were universally unperturbed by the notion of same-sex marriage and also said it wouldn't affect their choice about whether to marry a man or a woman when they grew up--duh! Would that their parents and parents' parents were so sensible.

In another thirty years or so, the majority of voters in California and the country as a whole will come from the post-sexual generation (for lack of a better term). Which pretty much guarantees that the march to equality hasn't been stopped, only delayed. I and many others would have liked to see it come sooner, but justice deferred is, I suppose, better than no justice at all.

2 comments:

skirbo said...

My thoughts exactly, written so much more eloquently than I could have.

Sarah

Emma said...

I've said this before, If you deny my fellow man, you deny me.