Sunday, November 30, 2008

FOOD: Pumpkins Aren't Just For Pie

One of the autumn foods I've learned to get excited about is pumpkin. I can't remember who first inspired me to think of pumpkin as being about more than just pie (and jack o'lanterns), but I think it was a couple years ago. I know Cliff's Edge served a great pumpkin ravioli, and somewhere I had a really good pumpkin soup. It makes sense when you think about it. We love acorn squash and butternut squash, and pumpkin is just another winter squash, like those other two, but with a slighly earthier flavor. The size is perhaps daunting if you only think of them as jack o'lanterns, but it's important to realize that the "sugar pumpkins" that you want for eating tend to be much smaller than the ones they sell for Halloween carving, and the smaller ones taste better too. You can find nice ones as small as one pound, certainly less than two. They're not too hard to prepare. Just put a few slits in them and stick them in a 350 degree oven for an hour or so. When you remove them, they're quite soft, and it's easy to scoop out the seedy mess in the center and peel the skin away from the flesh. (I haven't messed with the seeds, but I've heard those are good too, toasted.) I cut up the pumpkin flesh into small chunks which can be refridgerated for a few days, or can be put in a ziplock bag and frozen.

I had this notion that it would be really nicely complimented by corn and onions. So I got a couple ears of fresh corn and some cippolini onions from the farmer's market. (Cippolinis are those ones that look wide and flat, like a regular onion squashed flat, and they have a nice sweet bite to them.) I cut the corn off the cob, chopped up the onions, sauteed them in butter, then added some pumpkin chunks when they got soft. I added only salt and a little pepper, as I wanted the taste of the fresh ingredients. I thought it was marvelous. My husband though it was a bit bland and didn't like the texture of the pumpkin. He loved the corn/onion mix though. So the next week, as I still had half the pumpkin chunks in the freezer, I thought I'd try the same concept as a soup. I'd made some good pumpkin soups before, usually cooking the chunks with chicken stock and a splash of cream, and putting it all in the blender. But I thought I'd try something a bit different. I was thinking a light sweet curry theme might be good, so I heated some coconut oil and added the pumpkin chunks and a splash of soy milk, until they were soft. I then used a masher to mash them up like mashed potatoes. (An immersion blender would have been better, but I don't have one.) I continued to add the soy milk until I got a nice soup consistency. I added salt, pepper, curry powder, and some cinnamon. I still liked the idea of sweet corn and onions as a compliment, so I sauteed those up just as I had the week before, and added them into the soup, leaving them unblended so the soup would have some bits to bite into. It was delicious. Pumpkin is definitely a reason to be happy about fall.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

FILM: Slumdog Millionaire

What an amazingly original movie we saw on Thanksgiving Day. Slumdog Millionaire tells the tale of a boy who, with his brother and a young girl are all orphaned at an early age in the slums of Mumbai. The tale is told through the novel framing device of the game show "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?", where the main character, Jamal, is a contestant and is defying all expectations by answering all the questions, despite his unlikely background. The questions all touch off flashbacks to experiences in his life which lead him to know the answer to that question. His life is an amazing tale of pluck, faith, and fortitude in the face of all kinds of wretched circumstances. Jamal and his brother Salim have a touchingly strong loyalty to look out for one another, and though they get separated from the young girl Latika early on in their childhood, Jamal never gives up his love of her and his faith that they are destined to be together. Even though you know the inevitable Bollywood ending, the twists and turns in their life to get there are unpredictable and utterly engrossing. The characters are wonderful. Despite his remorselessness about fraud and stealing when he needed to just to live, Jamal also has an earnest forthrightness than he never loses throughout his hard life. There are three actors for each main character for childhood, youth, and adult scenes, and all of them are well-cast and terrific. The childhood actors are completely charming (without trying too hard to be so), and the youth and adult actors carry their characters forward with natural transition and increasing complexity. The cinematography is straightforward and real, with some wide shots that are beautiful at the same time as unflinching about the pervasive poverty depicted. The director keeps a very realistic viewpoint through it all, not going all Bollywood until the very end. Ultimately, we found the film outstandingly original, transporting, and even inspirational.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

FILM: Antarctica

The week before last, we caught the Israeli film Antarctica, an amusing though at times confusing slice of gay life in Tel Aviv. We meet a bunch of characters and watch how their paths cross, as the men all meet one another through online hook-ups and the women all meet in a popular coffee shop. The film opens with a clever visual of the screen divided into four quadrants, and scenes of a guy's apartment move across the quadrants, meeting a new guy at the door, inviting him in, messing around, kicking him out, getting dressed for work; lather, rinse, repeat. The visual is a clever way to tell a story about one guy's revolving door sex life. The film is very much an ensemble story, though the character who is the "Kevin Bacon" of this one-and-a-half degrees of separation network is a gay man with a lesbian sister and with their mother played by a drag queen (but unironically, as in Hairspray). By the end, he's dated or slept with most of the other male characters, and those he's dated or slept with have dated or slept with the rest. You have to pay close attention though, because after we meet half the characters in the first 15 minutes, there's a "three years later" fast-forward, at which point we meet new characters and the ones we've already met have new haircuts. (I had a couple of the characters mixed up for two-thirds of the film.) The women have their relationship issues too, but that's a lesser running subplot. We see a lot more of the men (double-entendre intended). There are also a couple of bizarre subplots. One of the women in a lesbian once (and future?) couple has some fascination with Antarctica, as in "I had to break up with you, because you wouldn't come with me if I decided I wanted to move to Antarctica". Or something like that. It may have been a clever metaphor for something, being the title of the film and all, but all I could think of was Harper Pitt, the pill-popping Mormon wife in Angels in America, who had similar Antarctic fantasies. The other bizarre subplot concerns a bunch of UFO fanatics who are convinced that the aliens are going to land in Rabin Square on Friday night. (Silly people. Don't they know that aliens would be prohibited from landing in Israel on the Sabbath?) Perhaps the UFOers were meant as a metaphorical comment on guys looking for love through online hook-ups. In any case, these quirky elements come together to make a satisfactorally amusing film.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

BOOKS: World Without End

I had greatly enjoyed Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth, and so I was looking forward to World Without End. While not exactly a sequel, his second medieval novel picks up in the same town of Kingsbridge two and a half centuries later, so that his first novel is the local history and its characters the ancestors of the characters of his second novel. It completely lived up to my expectations, and held me rapt. Once again he has woven a fascinating tale of love, ambition (both lofty and venial), and intrigue around an engaging set of characters, and enriched with a depth of historical context. While engrossed in the struggles of an independent-minded woman, an excellent architect with a poor start in life, a brutish knight, and a scheming prior, I inadvertently learned a heap of history, such as the economic development of medieval English boroughs, the wars of King Edward III in France, and the principles of medieval medicine. It was fascinating to me to learn things like how the wool trade gave way to the cloth trade, how feudal lords lost control of their tenant laborers, what the experience of the Plague was like, and how brutal the English invaders were in France. (That last item gives me a new appreciation for the famous Rodin sculpture The Burghers of Calais.) These historical details are not the least bit pedantic, but are vividly described, forming integral background to the rich tapestry of Follett's gripping characters and story. Through a span of a generation, the story explores, among other themes, the interesting question of what options were available for a smart, independent woman in the mid-14th century. I thoroughly enjoyed this fascinating historical tale.

Monday, November 24, 2008

FILM: Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist

Okay, enough about Prop 8 for a little while. I've got a backlog of films and books to catch up on. Though my blogging has been patchy, I'd like to make it through the year having blogged every film I saw and every book I read.

About a month ago, we saw Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist. While nothing profound, it was a fresh and entertaining film, capturing the feel of an all-night music-driven bar-crawl across New York City. Anyone who's been clubbing all night knows that the energy of the night has its ebbs and flows, moments when the stimulation breaks and the tiredness catches up with you, but then moments when the right tune or word re-energizes you again. This film did a great job of capturing that feel of an all-nighter, with the lulls capturing that dull feeling reminiscent of Lost in Translation, but then the next moment bringing a crazy energy like Go. Michael Cera and Kat Dennings bring authenticity to the title characters, making me truly remember (for the first time in over a couple decades) what it felt like to be in high school, when you cared what eveyone else thought even when you pretended not to, and when you first discover how powerful it can be to share your vulnerable self with someone else. Sure, Michael Cera is making a career of playing more or less the same soft-spoken earnest character as in Superbad and Juno, but it's a good character, and subtly deeper here. (Besides, I can think of other great actors who made a career playing more or less the same character. Richard Dreyfuss, for example.) There's a larger network of characters who have various links, some obvious and some hidden, and who cross paths in some unexpected ways, and there are some amusing subplots involving a lost drunk friend and the amazing travels of a piece of gum. But this film isn't quite as plot-driven as Go in that regard, it's more about characters and texture and music. And director Peter Sollett mixes these elements masterfully. Like a great playlist.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Prop 8 Leads to Teaching Gay Marriage in Schools

The big theme of the Yes on 8 crowd was that gay marriage would be taught in schools. The irony of course is that Prop 8 itself probably did more than anything else could have to get kids talking about gay marriage. With even further irony, they may also have made it a legitimate part of the curriculum, especially if the Cal Supreme Court does the right thing and invalidates Prop 8. This would make it a very fitting topic for Civics class. It's quite clear from all the noise being made about "four judges overturning the will of the people" that there are quite a lot of California citizens deficient in their Civics education, or at least in need of a refresher. Remedial topics include the Bill of Rights, the founding fathers' views on the "tyranny of the majority", the role of constitutions in protecting the fundamental rights of minorities against abridgement by majorities, and the role of supreme courts in enforcing that protection. Historical highlights in the curriculum include Marbury v. Madison, Brown v. Board of Education, Loving v. Virginia, Griswold v. Connecticut, Romer v. Evans, and Lawrence v. Texas. For California students, study should also include the role of the California Supreme Court as an independent guarantor of rights. Highlights include Perez v. Sharp, Mulkey v. Reitman, and In Re Marriage Cases.

UPDATE: The LA Times editorial board was on the same wavelength: "Maybe schools need to strengthen their civics lessons so that future voters will understand that supreme courts specifically are charged with ruling on constitutional questions -- and it is a sacred and historic role of the courts to protect minority rights as enshrined in state and federal constitutions. Indeed, if courts merely existed to ratify the will of majorities, they would add little to our society." And the spate of ensuing letters showed plenty of citizens needing those remedial civics lessons.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Prop 8 Court Appeal Watch

As expected, the California Supreme Court agreed to hear the petitions filed against Prop 8, but denied the request to stay its enforcement in the meantime. The Court requested both sides to prepare arguments on three questions:
  1. Is Prop 8 invalid because it is a revision, rather than amendment of the Constitution?
  2. Does Prop 8 violate the separation of powers doctrine (i.e., does it usurp the role of the Court in protecting minority interests in fundamental equal protection rights)?
  3. If Prop 8 stands, what is the effect on the marriages that have already occurred?

Interesting that the Court took the initiative to take on the third question, as I don't believe any of the petitions raised it. In the Marriage decision, Justice Kennard wrote a separate concurrence to elaborate on how that decision could be consistent with having previously struck down the "San Francisco marriages" of 2005 as unconstitutional (an opinion she disagreed with). But speaking of Justice Kennard, I'm not sure what to make of the fact that she alone dissented from accepting the petitions, and would have preferred a separate petition to deal with the issue of the pre-Prop 8 marriages. Does that mean that she would have completely dismissed the petitions, or does that merely mean that she thought it inappropriate for the Court to request a hearing on that issue without really having been asked? If the former, that doesn't bode well at all. I'm suspecting it's the latter.

In the one other tea leaf to be read, Justice Moreno alone would have granted the stay of enforcement.

One last bright note, the Court denied the request of the Campaign for California Families to intervene. CCF President Randy Thomasson is the guy who tried to put up an even harsher ballot initiative that would have tossed out domestic partnerships as well. Only the original Prop 8 proponents will be allowed to intervene.

Briefs are due in January, and oral arguments could be heard as early as next March under an expedited schedule.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Prop 8 Court Appeal Update

As of today, there are now six petitions filed with the California Supreme Court to overturn Prop 8. In addition to the three filings I wrote about yesterday, there are now three more. The basic argument, that allowing Prop 8 to stand as an initiative amendment enacted by a bare majority of voters is a horrible precedent, is the same in all the petitions. But some compelling perspectives are added. One is a joint filing by the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the NAACP, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), voicing their concern that if a bare majority of voters can revoke a fundamental right, California voters could enact laws to revive racial covenants in real estate, prevent Asian-Americans from owning land (as had been law nearly 100 years ago), or revive laws preventing mixed-race marriages. (As a sign at a recent protest said, "You may not be gay, but you may be next.") Another is a joint filing by the California Council of Churches, the Universal Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Church, and the Episcopal Bishops of Los Angeles and California, who argue along similar lines that this precedent could allow voters to infringe on fundamental rights of religious liberty, especially of minority denominations. This is compelling stuff.

On the other side, there are five parties opposing these petitions. A few of them make respectable arguments on the core revision vs. amendment issue, pointing to the precedents they view as most analogous, and pressing the "voice of the people" argument, but ignoring rather than addressing the equal protection arguments. A fourth party, the Pacific Justice Institute, offers only weak arguments around the margins (like an argument that the Cities of LA and San Francisco lack standing to file a petition). A fifth party, one D.Q. Marriette Do-Nguyen, claims to be speaking on behalf of the Almighty Eternal Creator, as His Heiress. For the edification of the Supreme Court Justices, she reveals the message of the Almighty Eternal Creator, as revealed to her in a dream last week, concerning not only Prop 8 and abortion, but also the Iraq War, George Bush, Bill Clinton, Elliott Spitzer, and other gems of received wisdom. I kid you not. (As one friend commented, something about opposing same-sex marriage really brings the nutcases out of the woodwork.) The arguments of the Almighty notwithstanding, I'm hopeful that the Court will find the petitions as stirring and compelling as I do.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Prop 8: The Court Appeal

When I first heard that there were going to be court appeals against Prop 8, my first reaction was that was really going to be a stretch. It's perfectly appropriate for the Court to find a statute to be unconstitutional, but it's rather problematic to ask the Court to find a constitutional amendment (which is, by definition, now part of the Constitution) to be unconstitutional. However, having read the briefs that have been filed, I see there actually is a claim to be made, and I'm cautiously optimistic that the court may go for it. (Of course, I also cringe now just saying "cautiously optimistic", as I used that same phrase often in expressing my hope that Prop 8 was going to fail at the ballot box. I guess with me, cautious optimism springs eternal.) The gist is that the California Constitution has two different processes for being changed, one called an "amendment" and one called a "revision". An "amendment" (which is how Prop 8 was filed) simply requires a bare majority of the voters, while a "revision" requires a more cumbersome process, first a two-thirds majority vote in both legislative houses and then going to the voters. The notion is that items of limited scope are "amendments", while those that make more substantive changes in the constitution of the government must be "revisions". The Constitution itself provides no more clarity on exactly what makes something rise to the level of a "revision". That distinction is left up to the Court to interpret. And historically, the Court has invalidated a couple of previous ballot initiative amendments, saying that they were too fundamental to be an amendment and really needed to go through the revision process. That's what Prop 8 opponents are asking the Court to do with Prop 8.

There's a good argument to be made that a change to the Constitution that actually repeals fundamental rights is substantive enough in scope to warrant the revision process, and the three appeals that I've read (I've heard there may now be a fourth) have made that argument. This would actually vindicate the intuition of many people that it's outrageous that the revoking of a fundamental right could be put to a ballot initiative for a bare majority. For those who care about constitutional forms of government, Prop 8 sets a frightening precedent (and it is indeed unprecedented). If that precedent is allowed to stand, then any unpopular minority group could have its constitutional rights revoked by a bare majority of the voters. Conceivably, we could put up an initiative that Mormon marriages would no longer be recognized by the state, or even more egregiously, California could legalize slavery again. Is it reasonable to think that California voters could enact such changes with just 51% of the voters on a ballot initiative? Undoubtedly, such measures would be struck down on appeals to the US Constitution, but one would hope that the California Constitution's guarantee of fundamental rights would stand on its own in this regard. Our constitutional government provides for "checks and balances" in separate branches of government, and one of the important duties of the Supreme Court is to safeguard the constitutional rights of minorities against what the founding fathers termed the "tyranny of the majority". A measure like Prop 8 defies that fundamental separation of powers. That's the gist of the arguments being made, and the Court may well find them compelling. Governor Schwarzenegger has advocated as much, and 44 California Senators and Assemblymembers have signed on to an amicus brief in favor of that position.

Of course any Supreme Court decision ultimately comes down to the seven Justices making the decision. The decision last spring recognizing a fundamental right to equal recognition of same-sex marriages was made by the minimum of four Justices, with three dissenting. For the original four concurring Justices, if they really believe what they wrote last May (their language was pretty clear and strong in terms of fundamental rights and protecting a minority group), then they would stand up for their opinion, and strike down Prop 8 as an insufficiently enacted constitutional revision. Those Justices were courageous in the face of what they probably knew would be substantial popular backlash (protecting minority rights, as the Court has noted, is often an unpopular job), and we can hope their courage does not falter. Unfortunately, ominous rumblings about their re-election prospects, and calls to remember Rose Bird, are being made by the Prop 8 backers (who have proven how ruthless they can be). Then we have the three dissenting Justices. The underlying issue for them will be whether they take the earlier decision as established precedent when evaluating this claim, or whether that precedent (that they didn’t agree with) is still open in their minds. Technically, this is a new and purely procedural issue (i.e., whether the initiative was inappropriately put forth as an amendment) that doesn't invite a revisiting of the earlier decision (whether there is a fundamental right to marry the person of one's choice), but in practice it may be hard to resist the opportunity to implicitly revisit the earlier decision in deciding this one. On the other hand, if I recall correctly, when the Prop 8 proponents requested a stay of the final Marriage decision pending the election, I believe that was unanimously denied by the Court, indicating that the dissenters are swayed by at least some arguments for proper procedure and not revisiting settled matters. Judging by the opinions filed in the Marriage decision (in addition to the decision, there was one concurrence and two separate dissents), I'd say the most likely outcome is that Prop 8 is invalidated by the same 4-3 decision as the original Marriage decision, since the four concurring justices spoke strongly about the role of the Court in protecting rights of minorities, while the three dissenters spoke strongly about the Court not overturning the will of the people expressed at the ballot box, and those same issues arise here.

The filings can all be read here (update: I just heard there are now six separate filings).
Of those I've read, the NCRL brief does the most technical work in discussing the various precedents on the revision vs. amendment issue, but the brief by the Cities makes the most readable and very eloquent statement of the issue. If you read only one, read that one.

There are rumblings that the Court will take some action on Wednesday, making initial decisions whether to even hear the case (I think they will, since both sides are urging that), and whether to issue an immediate stay in the meantime (I suspect they won't). Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Shape of the Cocoon

This map shows how Los Angeles County voted on Prop 8, precinct by precinct (green is yes on 8, purple is no on 8, the darker the color the larger the margin). The results of this election surprised many, and even traditionally solid liberal LA County went for Prop 8 by a slim majority. (The LA Times generated this map, and you can see it interactively on their web page.) I had always figured we lived in a bit of a cocoon, surrounded by friends and neighbors who tend to be more like-minded, and giving a false impression of what "everybody" thinks. This map gives a good idea of the shape of the cocoon. Locally, "our" turf seems to be the West Side, across through Hollywood, Silver Lake, Echo Park, Eagle Rock and Mount Adams to Pasadena (but not Glendale); the South Bay beach cities but not Torrance or Palos Verdes; the south and west San Fernando Valley plus Northridge, but not the east and most of the north. We knew we didn't have a lot of support in Santa Clarita and Palmdale. Not so much in the inner city or the Inland Empire either, except for a few pockets like Whittier and Claremont. A similar statewide map by county can be viewed here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A DOMA Change We Can Believe In

With Obama heading to the White House and Democratic majorities in Congress, it seems hopeful that we may progress on federal legislative goals for gay equality in the next four years. Obvious top priorities are getting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) enacted, overturning the ban on gays in the military, and repealing or modifying the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA, passed in 1996, has two basic provisions. Part 1 provides that no state is required to recognize the same-sex marriages of another state, meaning that Alabama is not required to recognize same-sex marriages even if a couple traveled to Massachusetts and got a legitimate marriage license there. Part 2 specifies that the federal government shall not recognize same-sex marriages for any federal purpose, which means that even legally married same-sex couples in Massachusetts aren't entitled to spousal Social Security benefits, or tax exemptions for spousal inheritance, or any of the 1,138 marriage-related rights in federal law. There has been talk of repealing DOMA: Hillary Clinton said she would have repealed Part 2, and Barack Obama said he would repeal both parts. I had thought repeal was a great idea, but I'm now thinking that modification, rather than repeal, of both parts may be the right thing to do.

In reflecting on the wake of Prop 8 and the great marriage debate it stirred up, I am impressed how significantly the line of scrimmage has shifted. Even same-sex marriage opponents generally claim that they support equal rights, just not "redefining marriage". For example, the Mormon church, in a statement this week, said "the Church does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches." And in national polls, those who support same-sex marriage, combined with those who oppose it but support civil unions, comprise a growing majority. Politically, at the federal level, same-sex marriage opponents such as John McCain espouse a federalist ("leave it to the states") policy. A pragmatic approach to modifying DOMA would build on this consensus.

Concerning Part 2, rather than simply repeal it, it should be modified to recognize civil unions. The pragmatic compromise of civil unions currently exists in some form in at least four states (Vermont, California, New Jersey, and New Hampshire), and it would be consistent with the apparent consensus on providing equal legal treatment that these should be recognized as equivalent to marriage for the purposes of federal law. I think most Americans, regardless of their approval of gay marriage, would see the injustice of two life partners not having their earned Social Security benefits protect their partner in the event of one's death, or having a surviving partner have to pay a whopping "gift income" tax on half the value of a jointly held home. Thus Part 2 should be amended as follows:
In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means a valid marriage or relationship substantially equivalent to marriage (e.g., a civil union) as recognized by law of the state of residence, and the word ‘spouse’ refers to a person who is a party to such marriage or substantially equivalent relationship.

Concerning Part 1, while some would proclaim same-sex marriage by federal fiat on all 50 states, I don't believe that is prudential at this time. I think it's better to give the controversial issue some breathing room by supporting the federalist position, that states should be allowed to determine their own policies. However, there is an important modification that should be made here. While states should be given latitude to set their own marriage policy for their residents, federal law should provide a guarantee of "safe passage" for visitors to the state. Nobody should ever again suffer the fate of Lisa Pond, who collapsed while vacationing in Florida and ultimately died in a hospital that actively prevented her partner from seeing her, directing her care, or obtaining her death certificate. I hope few Americans would see that as good public policy. Thus I propose the "Family Safe Passage Amendment" to DOMA Part 1. The distinction should be quite workable. Consider that each state has different license plates for automobiles, and different requirements for licensing cars. When I as a California resident drive my car into Arizona, I don't immediately have to take my car to get an Arizona state vehicle check and an Arizona license plate. That would be ridiculous if I'm only visiting. On a temporary basis, Arizona accepts a California-registered vehicle. However, after an appropriate period of time, if I'm still in Arizona, then I do have to register my car there, and bring it into conformity with local requirements. It should be the same for a marriage (or equivalent). If I have a California domestic partnership (a "marriage equivalent"), and I go into the emergency room while on a business trip in Virginia, my partner should be recognized appropriately at the hospital there, despite Virginia's own draconian marriage policies. Isn't that a change we can all believe in?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Taking The Long View

As I contemplated the feeling of profound disappointment last Wednesday morning, exhausted from having fought so hard for a cause and come up short, I knew I had felt that feeling before. It came to me that it was the same feeling that I felt last February the day after "super Tuesday", when I had poured a heap of time, sweat, and money into Obama's primary campaign in California. He had been leading in the polls in California, and at least within my horizons, there had seemed to be a vast surging tide of enthusiasm for Obama then that seemed to assure victory in the California primary. On February 6, I awoke to the news and that same feeling of exhausted disbelief and crestfallenness. But the similarity of those days suggests a lesson to me. One of the things I have admired about Obama is his uncanny ability to remain calm and steadily focused on the long goal despite blows and setbacks. While first Clinton and later McCain kept reinventing themselves to fit the focus group of the moment, and kept changing their strategy like a supermodel changes shoes, Obama kept his steady eye on the prize and didn't waver in his vision or in the execution of his strategy. Prop 8 was a setback, but we need to remember that just as sure as Obama lost California on super Tuesday and still went on to win the election, the cause of equal treatment under the law for citizens regardless of their sexual orientation will win out in the end.

I haven't participated in any of the large protests going on since the election. I understand people feeling like they want to vent, and a few demontrations are probably a good thing to signify the passion behind this issue. But I don't think expressions of outrage are the most productive means of changing anyone's mind. We've made a huge amount of progress in the eight years since Prop 22, and I attribute that progress primarily to gay people from all walks of life being more open and visible. Not as angry sign-waving people or folks marching in a parade, but as co-workers, as parents of school children, as fellow churchmembers, as soldiers, and in all the ways that anybody encounters their fellow citizens in our society. Just living our lives in quiet but open and unapologetic dignity does more than anything else to open our fellow citizens' eyes to the injustices in our current government policies. Some of those policies need to be explained to people (e.g., unequal tax treatment and social security benefits), but they can be explained calmly. The observation of injustice speaks for itself far more loudly than demands for justice can be shouted.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Hope Overshadowed

It's hard to describe the mixture of feelings I felt this morning. There was a base of exhaustion, both physically, the hoarse voice and aching back and feet from standing for 13 hours near polling sites (a legal distance away) passing out "No on 8" cards to poll-bound voters, and emotionally, from having invested so much money, time, and sweat in the No on 8 campaign, only to come so close and miss. I should have been absolutely exuberant at the Obama landslide, a campaign I also devoted much energy to earlier in the year, but emotionally, the cloud of Prop 8 overshadowed what should have been a dawn of triumph. "Yes We Can" rang hollow when it turned out that here in California -- California! -- no, we couldn't quite. When I step back and try to be dispassionate about it, I appreciate it's a great day. If I were given a choice between Obama winning or Prop 8 losing, and I couldn't have both, I'd definitely take the outcome that we got. Obama's victory is huge, and I have great hope that he will live up to his promise of being the greatest president in my lifetime. And the fact of a black man winning the highest office in the land crowns a trajectory of equality traced by Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr. I should be dancing in the street and singing hallelujah. Maybe tomorrow the Yes We Can spirit will reinspire me with hope, but today I'm just feeling spent and a bit dazed, like someone who won a big lottery and lost a loved one all in the same day. (Obama himself may be feeling that way too, having lost his grandmother on the eve of his victory.) I can't help but ponder the bitter irony that the overwhelming black turnout for this historic election may well have been decisive in passing Proposition 8. And I can't help but feeling a twinge of resentment that Obama didn't come out more forcefully against Prop 8, which could well have made a big difference for black voters. Of course I understand full well why he didn't and why he shouldn't have, but emotion has its own logic. And Prop 8 was so much more personal than the presidential race. The proponents succeeded in turning it into a referendum on the unworthiness of gay marriages as a moral example for children. While individual marriages vary, I'm personally convinced that gay marriages can be as morally praiseworthy and exemplary as straight ones. I'd like to think that my godson and goddaughter, whether they turn out to be gay or straight, might find some qualities to admire and emulate in their uncles' marriage. I respect the right of Californians to disagree, but it's demoralizing to find that 52% of them do. But what's worse is to find that 52% of Californians are willing to translate their moral disapproval into constitutionalizing our unequal treatment by the law. To anyone who doesn't understand why this is so personal, I ask: how would you feel if your marriage were on the ballot, subject to the approval of voters? And how would you feel if your marriage were voted down?