Mark Vorpahl contributed to this article.
Ex-slave and Abolitionist Fredrick Douglas famously observed that power cedes nothing without struggle. The history of civil rights movements in this country also demonstrate that even the most fundamental democratic gains are temporary at best without vigilant struggle that can potentially challenge the power of the rulers against the ruled. Nothing has ever been gained and secured by simply relying on the institutions of the state and its politicians. Any implementation of progressive measures on their part has only been the product of independent mass mobilizations that have kept their forces in the streets until the sought after gains were won.
We have again been reminded of this by the recent passage of Proposition 8 in California, a bigoted mean-spirited ballot measure aimed at denying gays and lesbians the fundamental democratic right to marry whom they wish. Last June, after decades of constant organizing, educating, and protesting on the part of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people and their supporters, the California Supreme Court was compelled to legalize same sex marriages. The purpose of Proposition 8 was to overturn this gain, leaving 18,000 same sex marriages performed in California since June in question. However, social movements aren’t like films that can be run backwards and then replayed in the exact same way. The narrow victory of Proposition 8 (52% against, 48% opposed) has resulted in the opposite of its intended effect. It has re-energized the struggle for LGBT rights to a major degree, so that many are calling this movement “Stonewall II” after that inaugural rebellious act of the modern U.S. gay rights movement fighting for their rights in 1969.
The passage of Proposition 8 rapidly sparked a mobilized protest movement of 300 demonstrations nationally on November 15, with demonstrations in many California locations. These anti-Proposition 8 protests have erupted not only throughout the US, but also in several other countries. In San Francisco, symbolic home of the same sex marriage movement, a crowd of about 25,000 gathered in front of City Hall demanding the overturn of the hated Proposition 8. According to news reports demonstrators gathered in Los Angeles (9,000), Las Vegas (1,000), New York City, Chicago, and Portland. Demonstrators showed a renewal of militancy and determination with homemade signs reading “No More Mr. Nice Gay” and “Gay Rights are Human Rights”. These mobilizations are the largest since the May 1 demonstrations to defend immigrant rights.
The movement has clearly been motivated in part by the belief that the Obama candidacy would mean “Change.” In fact, while the candidate himself urged at one time a no vote on California’s Proposition 8, he and his campaign made no effort to prominently present this view to the voters. Many campaigners for same sex marriages found Obama’s virtual silence in defense of equal rights for all to reflect a certain distancing of himself from the cause of actually defeating Proposition 8. His own statement opposing gay marriage, at odds with his No Vote position, was in fact used by the Yes on 8 campaign in a late mailing targeting African American voters. One can only imagine the impact if Barack Obama had appeared on TV urging his supporters to vote No on 8. Perhaps the first lesson of the duplicitous reality of Barack Obama is being played out now.
The resentment of losing this important election has led some misdirected elements to vent their frustration at the Mormons, forgetting that the Mormon hierarchy, which heavily financed the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign, does not represent the views of many individual Mormons. It is significant that high profile Mormons such as retired San Francisco 49er quarterback Steve Young and his wife, Barbara Young, contributed and campaigned to defeat the initiative. It is unlikely that if Mormons are universally targeted by the movement, that individual Mormons will take a stand against the Mormon Elders. The Mormon hierarchy’s campaign has been an embarrassment for many progressive Mormons. Socialists must point out that the scapegoating of the Mormons is counter productive. The Church leaders deserve all the scorn they have earned. But they themselves are the proxy for the deeply conservative interests of the US establishment which has flaunted flag and family as its guiding demagogy for hundreds of years.
A National Atmosphere of Progressive Expectations
The demagoguery spewed against same sex marriage is particularly useful when the economy is in recession and veering toward complete meltdown. President Elect Obama has made it plain that he intends to escalate the war in Afghanistan. These events will have devastating effects on millions of US families as they lose their jobs and their homes to banks and their loved ones are sent off to war.
Under the capitalist economic system, it is vital for the interests of the tiny wealthy ruling minority to divide the vast majority. Otherwise, the majority can easily unite and take matters into their own hands. The Establishment is delighted when we are divided amongst ourselves. The vast majority of American society, people who work for a living, have no objective interest in opposing same sex marriage. Bigotry against gay people hampers the ability of working people to fight in a united manner against corporate and government attacks on our standard of living. The mass mobilization of the LGBT community to overturn Proposition 8 may be a harbinger of the radicalization and mobilization by wide sectors of the American working class. This may be especially true given that the vast majority of working people share an increased economic anxiety due to the experience of declining living standards, jobs and health care losses which are only just beginning.
What Next for the Gay Rights Movement?
The new, rapidly organized movement to protest the passage of ˙Proposition 8 has given a direct voice to LGBT people and their supporters in defense against this attack on democratic rights. This movement cannot merely rely on the legal challenges ahead facing the California Supreme Court. No civil rights struggle has been won by doing so. Now is the time to advance and to directly attempt to influence the California Supreme Court. It is often said that the Courts are independent and apart from politics. This is not true; Supreme Court judges are influenced by public opinion just like everyone else. The people themselves must make their demands heard directly and clearly to the Courts by means of mobilizing tens of thousands of people to peacefully and legally March on Sacramento.
In order for Proposition 8 to be overturned, the gay rights movement must now reach out directly to the union movement, progressive churches, and especially to the Black and Latino community, who were mainly overlooked prior to the election. This movement must be organized independent of the Democratic Party so that there can be no political interference, or obstacles put in the path of the movement seeking the overturning of Proposition 8 by the use of massive peaceful demonstrations of the majority of the people of California.
As we are writing these lines, California Attorney General and leading Democrat, Jerry Brown, declared his intention to implement the reactionary Proposition 8 as soon as possible. With “friends” like these, who needs enemies.
In order to broaden the opposition to Proposition 8, meetings should be organized all over the state to democratically discuss and decide the political direction, demands and tactics that the movement must employ to successfully win the majority of people to the struggle for equality for all. This movement needs to bring in new activists and new leaders if it is to broaden and be effective. The overwhelming majority of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered are working class and their families are working class. The campaign for equality must appeal for working class, multi-racial support.
This movement can succeed. We propose that the movement demand that the Governor immediately direct the state’s counties to continue to issue same sex marriage licenses in defiance of the Attorney General’s directives until Proposition 8 is overturned. We propose that the movement organize a statewide mobilization to march on Sacramento and demonstrate at the State Capital Building and at the office of the State Supreme Court. Unless the Overturn Prop. 8 movement focuses on independent mobilizations to exercise its enormous political power, its efforts will be dissipated by the cruelly cynical bi-partisan political establishment.
With the momentum already gained, the prospects for successfully overturning Prop. 8 are significantly enhanced.
March on Sacramento!
Demand that Marriage Licenses Continue to Be Issued in All Counties in California!
Demand the Immediate Overturn of Prop. 8!