Keith Olbermann Prop 8

There have been a lot of post-mortems in the wake of the disturbing passage of Proposition 8 in California, which would have upheld the state Supreme Court’s decision in May to allow same-sex marriages. Protesters have taken to the streets of Los Angeles and San Francisco voicing their dissent. Some have marched on the steps of the Mormon temples, especially since it’s been revealed that LDS money from Utah helped fund the Yes on 8 campaign throughout the state. Tens of thousands have also taken to signing petitions that seek to overturn the vote.  Other petitions charge that because of its overt involvement in the campaign, the Mormon Church should lose its precious tax exemption status.

book of mormonThe fallout has also focused on various ironies that accompanied the Yes on 8 vote, which passed by 52 to 48 percent. California’s Field poll had the proposition losing even this past summer, at about 55 to 42 percent [ ], but through a well-financed and organized campaign that allied not only religious groups but also African-Americans and Latinos, the “Yes” victory made some sense even if the outcome was not certain until the day after the Election. Mormons and Catholics, not always kind bedfellows, were able to frame this issue as a religious one –one that challenged their faith and widely-held notions of what marriage between a man and woman represented. In hindsight, the struggle was all about faith, as a columnist noted over the weekend:

Gay marriage advocates need to understand that religious opposition to their cause is often bathed in love, not hate. (Religious leaders speak) speaks of loving gay people but condemning the act of homosexual love.The strongest rebuttal to this – one we never heard from the No on 8 campaign – is that many gay couples have been joined in marriages defined not by sex but by love, devotion, fidelity and sacrifice.

There were a lot of things the No on 8 campaign got wrong. There was never any significant outreach to these religious or minority communities. It’s as if a lot of these populations, along with the more traditional, centrist or even conservative families that live in the Central Valley felt themselves being attacked for being seen as intolerant and bigoted when all they were doing was following their own beliefs. The No on 8 campaign, to be blunt, seemed complacent and elitist, believing that everyone would see at the very least that Prop 8 was discriminatory. It is. Again, the Yes on 8 people were also able to deftly portray the opposition as out of touch, centered in the SF and LA metropolitan areas. Their claim that schools would be forced to teach children about same-sex marriage, while immoral and fear-mongering, probably had some impact. The weak rebuttal by Jack O’Connell, the State Director of Public Education, that this would not happen flew in the face of a much-publicized front-page story in the San Francisco Chronicle in August about a SF first-grade class attending their teacher’s wedding to another woman –with SF mayor and lightning rod Gavin Newsom attending.

PhelpsAnd what about the staggering disinformation campaign that Yes on 8 supporters put out? The scare tactics that if defeated, Prop 8 would force ministers to perform same-sex unions and also threaten their churches’ tax-exempt status –leave aside their own moral feelings about homosexuality. There were “robo”calls, some even from voices that were made to sound like Barack Obama. He and others appeared in No on 8 ads but in the end, it was too little, too late. I also believe that it took until those final weeks for the No campaign to actually run Spanish-language ads, since there were few, if any, written materials in Spanish either.

In the end, it’s the numbers that are troubling. It’s the same groups who have experienced discrimination in this country, the same groups who helped lead Obama to victory, are the same ones who are in effect condoning discrimination and inequality on another social group. According to
election results,
70% of Blacks
voted for 8
According to final election results, 70% of Blacks voted for 8; they went 94% to 6% for Obama; in Los Angeles County, with a large minority population, went 50-50 for Prop 8. 49% of Latinos went for 8. 45% of Asians did as well. Those are astounding numbers. And yet, it really didn’t have to be this way, especially given all the momentum that attended such a decisive victory for Obama here in California and nationwide. It’s not that Prop 8 was an easy measure to articulate. But it required an assertive but measured response, and a coalition of leaders to help strip down what it was really about: a compassion and a shared idea about what it means to love someone and build a future together—just like everyone else, just like human beings.

In this vein I will allow MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann to express the gist of what was missing from Prop 8, and what the passage means for us all. The full transcript of his “Special Comment” from Monday’s broadcast follows:

Finally tonight as promised, a Special Comment on the passage, last week, of Proposition 8 in California, which rescinded the right of same-sex couples to marry, and tilted the balance on this issue, from coast to coast.

Some parameters, as preface. This isn’t about yelling, and this isn’t about politics, and this isn’t really just about Prop-8. And I don’t have a personal investment in this: I’m not gay, I had to strain to think of one member of even my very extended family who is, I have no personal stories of close friends or colleagues fighting the prejudice that still pervades their lives.

And yet to me this vote is horrible. Horrible. Because this isn’t about yelling, and this isn’t about politics.

This is about the… human heart, and if that sounds corny, so be it  If you voted for this Proposition or support those who did or the sentiment they expressed, I have some questions, because, truly, I do not… understand. Why does this matter to you? What is it to you? In a time of impermanence and fly-by-night relationships, these people over here want the same chance at permanence and happiness that is your option. They don’t want to deny you yours. They don’t want to take anything away from you. They want what you want — a chance to be a little less alone in the world.

Only now you are saying to them — no. You can’t have it on these terms. Maybe something similar. If they behave. If they don’t cause too much trouble. You’ll even give them all the same legal rights — even as you’re taking away the legal right, which they already had. A world around them, still anchored in love and marriage, and you are saying, no, you can’t marry. What if somebody passed a law that said you couldn’t marry?

I keep hearing this term “re-defining” marriage.

If this country hadn’t re-defined marriage, black people still couldn’t marry white people. Sixteen states had laws on the books which made that illegal… in 1967. 1967.

The parents of the President-Elect of the United States couldn’t have married in nearly one third of the states of the country their son grew up to lead. But it’s worse than that. If this country had not “re-defined” marriage, some black people still couldn’t marry…black people. It is one of the most overlooked and cruelest parts of our sad story of slavery. Marriages were not legally recognized, if the people were slaves. Since slaves were property, they could not legally be husband and wife, or mother and child. Their marriage vows were different: not “Until Death, Do You Part,” but “Until Death or Distance, Do You Part.” Marriages among slaves were not legally recognized.

You know, just like marriages today in California are not legally recognized, if the people are… gay.

And uncountable in our history are the number of men and women, forced by society into marrying the opposite sex, in sham marriages, or marriages of convenience, or just marriages of not knowing — centuries of men and women who have lived their lives in shame and unhappiness, and who have, through a lie to themselves or others, broken countless other lives, of spouses and children… All because we said a man couldn’t marry another man, or a woman couldn’t marry another woman. The sanctity of marriage. How many marriages like that have there been and how on earth do they increase the “sanctity” of marriage rather than render the term, meaningless?

What is this, to you? Nobody is asking you to embrace their expression of love. But don’t you, as human beings, have to embrace… that love? The world is barren enough.
It is stacked against love, and against hope, and against those very few and precious emotions that enable us to go forward. Your marriage only stands a 50-50 chance of lasting, no matter how much you feel and how hard you work.

And here are people overjoyed at the prospect of just that chance, and that work, just for the hope of having that feeling. With so much hate in the world, with so much meaningless division, and people pitted against people for no good reason, this is what your religion tells you to do? With your experience of life and this world and all its sadnesses, this is what your conscience tells you to do?

peaceWith your knowledge that life, with endless vigor, seems to tilt the playing field on which we all live, in favor of unhappiness and hate… this is what your heart tells you to do? You want to sanctify marriage? You want to honor your God and the universal love you believe he represents? Then Spread happiness — this tiny, symbolic, semantical grain of happiness — share it with all those who seek it. Quote me anything from your religious leader or book of choice telling you to stand against this. And then tell me how you can believe both that statement and another statement, another one which reads only “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

You are asked now, by your country, and perhaps by your creator, to stand on one side or another. You are asked now to stand, not on a question of politics, not on a question of religion, not on a question of gay or straight. You are asked now to stand, on a question of…love. All you need do is stand, and let the tiny ember of love meet its own fate. You don’t have to help it, you don’t have it applaud it, you don’t have to fight for it. Just don’t put it out. Just don’t extinguish it. Because while it may at first look like that love is between two people you don’t know and you don’t understand and maybe you don’t even want to know…It is, in fact, the ember of your love, for your fellow **person…

Just because this is the only world we have. And the other guy counts, too.
This is the second time in ten days I find myself concluding by turning to, of all things, the closing plea for mercy by Clarence Darrow in a murder trial.
But what he said, fits what is really at the heart of this:

“I was reading last night of the aspiration of the old Persian poet, Omar-Khayyam,” he told the judge.
“It appealed to me as the highest that I can vision. I wish it was in my heart, and I wish it was in the hearts of all:
“So I be written in the Book of Love;
“I do not care about that Book above.
“Erase my name, or write it as you will,
“So I be written in the Book of Love.”

Good night, and good luck.

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