Reflections on California's Proposition 8

| Wed Nov. 5, 2008 4:19 PM EST

The United States took away rights yesterday.

It's a stunning thing to acknowledge. On the same day we culminated a civil rights struggle that spans our nation's entire history by electing the first African-American president of the United States, California voters revoked the right of some citizens in their state to marry the people they love, and nullified the bonds of some who already had.

California's Proposition 8 amends the California state constitution to eliminate the right to marry awarded to homosexuals by the California courts in May 2008. Further, it states that only marriages between a man and a woman are recognized by the state, likely shredding the marriages that have occurred since the court decision. Prop 8 passed Tuesday by a vote of 52-48, part of a wave of successful anti-gay legislation nationwide.

If you look at the front page of any newspaper today, you'll find heart-warming plaudits for the country about racial healing and America's progress since the civil rights movement. Count me out. Barack Obama won because the Bush Administration hung a 30-pound anchor around the neck of every Republican in the country, because the economy cratered just before the election and his opponent showed no capacity to understand the problem, and because he ran the best campaign in recent memory. You cannot divorce his victory from those facts. Yes, his ascendance to the White House is a wonderful thing for everyone in this country — black, white, or otherwise — who have struggled for rights, and it a wonderful thing for children of all colors, who now know without a doubt that there are no limits on their potential. But Obama's victory is muddied by too many other factors, some small but some quite large, to be taken as a clear sign that we have made substantial progress on the question of tolerance.

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