“Public schools become focus of gay marriage ban”

From the Associated Press/Yahoo:

Public schools become focus of gay marriage ban

By LISA LEFF and JULIET WILLIAMS, Associated Press Writers
Wed Oct 22

SAN FRANCISCO – A girl in pigtails bounds into the kitchen after school and asks her mother to guess what she learned that day. “I learned how a prince married a prince, and I can marry a princess,” she exclaims to her mortified mom.

This television advertisement for a ballot initiative that would ban same-sex marriage in California urges voters to “protect children” by approving the measure.

There’s not a word about education in Proposition 8, but what public schools will be required to teach about same-sex marriage has emerged as the central issue in the campaign.

The measure’s supporters warn that teachers will be forced to tell young children about gay marriage if the measure fails on Nov. 4.

Opponents of the measure say that’s deceptive because schools already are required to teach tolerance of gays and lesbians, and the ballot measure won’t change that.

“I’ve seen the spots on the TV, and (legalized gay marriage) just isn’t going to require any kind of teaching of personal relationships or lifestyle,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, who has joined the state’s largest teacher’s union in opposing the measure. “That’s just not an accurate statement or portrayal.”

To combat anti-gay discrimination, California schools have addressed topics such as gay households, homophobia and sexual orientation for years, well before the state Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal this year. But how school districts choose to deliver that instruction is decided locally instead of mandated by the state, according to educators and legal experts.

Supporters of Proposition 8 — which would overrule the state Supreme Court decision — received fodder for their claims earlier this month. With parental permission, a public charter school took 18 first-graders on a field trip to San Francisco City Hall where their teacher and her female partner had just been wed by Mayor Gavin Newsom.

“The other side’s argument is (Prop. 8) has nothing to do with education. Our argument is this has everything to do with education,” said Chip White, a Proposition 8 spokesman. “It’s already happening.”

An estimated 52,000 children are being raised by two mothers or two fathers in California, which is one of 12 states with comprehensive anti-bullying laws that apply to gay students and children with unconventional families.

Some elementary schools have acquired books depicting families with same-sex couples, middle schools have taught students not to use anti-gay slurs, and high schools have sanctioned gay-straight alliance clubs. And school districts have been found liable for not taking steps to prevent anti-gay harassment.

The mother-daughter campaign ad refers to “King and King,” a children’s book about two princes marrying that became the subject of a lawsuit in Massachusetts, the first U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage. The parents of a second-grader sued after the book was read in class, but the school district successfully argued that advance notice of the reading was not required because the book was not part of the sex education curriculum.

Critics of Proposition 8 point out that many schools in California already use “King and King” and other books to discourage discrimination against gay students or children with gay parents.

“The education code already has a high expectation that school districts are going to create an environment where respect for human dignity and acceptance of differences, including sexual orientation, are promoted,” said Laura Schulkind, a San Francisco lawyer who represents school districts across California. “I don’t see how the legalization of gay marriage or the passage of Prop. 8 changes that obligation.”

The need for such awareness training was brought home to California in February, when a 15-year-old who sometimes wore feminine clothing and talked about being gay was shot to death at his Oxnard junior high school. A classmate has pleaded not guilty to murder and hate-crime charges.

“We have to address harassment and bullying, and there is no way to do that in America without talking about gay people,” said Debra Chasnoff, an Oscar-winning filmmaker who has made four documentaries to address anti-gay harassment in schools.

The opposing sides have debated what, if anything, schools must teach about marriage now that gays have the right to wed.

The state education code specifies that marriage should be discussed in sex education classes. But school districts are not required to hold the classes and parents can have their children excused if the course conflicts with their moral values. The vast majority of California districts teach sex ed.

“Current state law does not require school districts to teach anything about marriage or same-sex marriage,” Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley wrote in ruling on Proposition 8’s ballot arguments. He added, however, that the state “may require” such instruction in the future.

Robin Sinks, the health education specialist for the 90,000-student Long Beach Unified School District, does not think what is taught in California schools will change much regardless of what happens on Election Day.

Teachers in large, diverse districts now strive to make their sex education lessons relevant to straight, gay and bisexual students, Sinks said. “We’re talking about really refraining from using things like, husband-wife, boyfriend-girlfriend, those kind of things, and just say ‘partner,'” she said.

Gary Marksbury, a history teacher at Lakewood High School in Long Beach, plans to let his students debate Proposition 8 during a mock election, but he is so strongly opposed to gay marriage that he donated $1,000 to support the measure.

Marksbury said California should give parents more latitude to pull their children out of courses that offend their religious beliefs. “In today’s world,” he said, said, “it seems like tolerance is a one-way street for some people, so if you don’t like the idea of same-gender marriage you are immediately labeled a bigot.”

California gives local districts authority — and in the case of sex education, the imperative — to adopt curricula that reflect community mores while meeting certain standards. So what students hear about homosexuality in Long Beach schools may be different from what they learn in the more conservative Central Valley.

Wendy Robertson, a teacher at Forest Park Elementary School in Fremont, is not worried about having to explain same-sex marriage to her pupils. During her 17 years teaching kindergarten, Robertson says no one has ever told her to talk about any kind of marriage with her pupils.

If one of her pupils asked if he could marry his best buddy, Robertson said her answer would be age-appropriate.

“I would say, ‘Wait and see, you have to be grown-up first,'” she said.


NO on Prop 8: because it’s the right thing to do

This is the fifth in a five-part series on the “California Marriage Protection Act,” Proposition 8 on the November 2008 ballot. Parts one, two, three, and four appeared earlier in the week.


In this final post on California’s Proposition 8, I want to urge those of you who are gay, lesbian, transgender, or allies of the same, to do what you can do to assure this measure is defeated in November.

For those who do not know, Proposition 8 seeks to amend the state Constitution by adding a section which would read: Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. It is an attempt to overturn the May 2008 decision of the state Supreme Court which legalized same-sex marriage.

As I wrote last July, the coalition of groups against same-sex marriage is diverse in it potential reach. Composed of religious and conservative groups, they also reflect some of the broad racial/ethnic diversity of the state of California. As a largely grassroots organization (or, more appropriately, a coalition of grassroots organizations), with exceedingly deep pockets, they have been poised for some time to whip up fear and support among traditionally ignored voting blocs and get them to the polls in November. Among these constituencies are poor and working-class people of color whose sole regular institutional participation ins usually within their local church.

Last summer my fear was that the “No on Prop. 8” movement would not reach out effectively to these groups, leaving them with no other channel of information than the steady stream of fear from intolerant zealots. I continue to have this fear. Poor and working-class immigrants and people of color are often ignored in political campaigns. It is not surprising, therefore, that they also tend to vote in lower numbers. In an ironic twist, the state of the economy and the campaign of Barack Obama are both contributing to a projected increase in these groups’ participation this fall. Where will they fall on Prop. 8 in California?

My hope is that they vote to reject this measure out of a clear recognition that it is the right thing to do.

Those of us from marginalized communities are intimately familiar with the daily kinds of pain (physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual) inflicted upon those who are not regularly considered part of “we the people.” For the immigrant who chooses to come to this country in search of economic survival, this realization is often expected but no less tragic. For them, the thin veil of American’s image of themselves is nothing but that as they are faced with a daily existence marked by regular forms of discrimination and the feeling of being on the invisible margins. But their participation in this society can have a healing effect.

I remember when my grandmother became a citizen of the United States. An immigrant from Mexico who had lived and worked in the U.S. for her entire adult life, the decision to become a citizen after five decades of being a green card holder came, partially, from a recognition that she wanted to have a voice in the political machinations of this country. While it had become “home” to her long ago, the organized anti-immigrant and anti-color campaigns of the Pete Wilson governorship were too reminiscent of earlier times in the state for her to sit by without some (however minor) political role.

I am glad she will be voting against Prop. 8. Though she is a naturalized citizen, though she attends church every week (and sometimes more), she know there is nothing gained in a society marked by discrimination. She know this makes us all weaker in the fight to make this nation live up to its ideals.

In reality, a vote against Prop. 8 is a fairly conservative move. Same-sex marriage rights still uphold the socially-constructed and politically-sanctioned valorization of marriage as a social institution. It doesn’t challenge that fundamental bias, instead opening up more of the population to nurture it. I suspect someday our society will begin to question whether or not civil authorities need to be in the marriage incentive business at all but for now, that is the dominant model.

I say this to highlight the fact that for many, support of same-sex marriage is not stretch, even if they “morally” disagree with being lesbian or gay.  Many people understand the difference between a law that forces a discreet morality on people in a free society versus one that allows for people to choose their own morality.  A classic argument of the civil rights era was that racial integration was being legislated and that it was bound to fail since you can’t force people to not be racist.  Even so, an end to segregation did not compel anyone who was racist to not be.  They didn’t even have to tolerate “mixed” settings.  They could go on in their daily live keeping themselves and their children in a white bubble.  But, over time, by society stopping to valorize this morality of a few on the majority, its contradictions became increasingly clear.  It is time for us to do the same with homophobia.

This week’s worth of post were not meant to convince the fervent supporters of the ban on equal marriage rights. Such a debate is largely impossible to have. But they are not the majority of this state. The majority are fair-minded people who place social and political equality on the level it deserves. They want us to be a healthier, more just, more equitable society. They only need to be reminded, when they are faced with the opportunity to do so, how important it is to take that step.

For more information, click here.

NO on Prop 8: because it’s homophobic

This is the fourth in a five-part series on the “California Marriage Protection Act,” Proposition 8 on the November 2008 ballot. Parts one, two, and three appeared earlier in the week.


California’s Proposition 8 seeks to amend the state Constitution by adding a section which would read: Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

Such an addition to the state Constitution would discriminate against gay and lesbian couples because they would no longer enjoy the equal rights they now share with heterosexual couples, namely, the ability to marry in civil ceremonies, have that marriage recognized by civil authorities, and enjoy the public recognition and benefit of being married. This is, of course, the rub. People who support the measure do not want parity between gay and lesbian couples and heterosexual couples. They “celebrate” the “legal equality” of the state’s domestic partnership regulations with the state’s civil marriage ones, but still disagree with the legality of same-sex marriage, an even “more equal” move. What is beneath the seemingly contradictory stances?

Simply put, support for Pop. 8 is about homophobia. It is about a largely irrational fear of gay, lesbian, and transgender people in our world.  Its supporters are engaged in a move to maintain a social system which embodies homophobia, what many call heterosexism.

When it comes down to it, this is the basic position of the “Yes on Prop. 8” effort. They view the increasingly public visibility of homosexuality and its accompanying rising levels of tolerant acceptance as an attack on their vision of a society based on their conceptions of right and wrong. And for once, they’re right. Unlike those other moral questions (like murder or crime, like democracy versus fascism) this one does not threaten the larger social contract, except when we do not preserve equal marriage rights.  When your vision includes having to dictate “morality” for other people rather than protect their freedom to decide for themselves what is “moral,” then history shows your vision will, eventually, be dismantled.

Where they’re wrong is not in their analysis but in their chosen position, a reflection of the some of the most destructive kinds of cultural arrogance and fear which have marked our history with pain, death, and oppression instead of fostering in it freedom and equality.

I will be among the first to say there is a contextual and historical difference between being nonwhite in U.S. society and being lesbian, gay, or transgender. That isn’t because of biology or levels of oppression (what Chicana writer Cherrí Moraga called the “oppression olympics”). This is an analysis based on the role played by whiteness in U.S. history and in the way it continues to work as a definitive element of both our national culture and social formation. Racism and homophobia have differences, rooted in the past and present, which are worth understanding.  That said, the tactics of oppression, inequality, and discrimination used in a system of racism compared to those used in a system of heterosexism are like different instruments in an orchestra, each playing their own part of a grand symphony. They are connected, and often reliant upon on another, building with each other in one common cause.

The eloquent and critically sophisticated Martin Luther King expressed this in the previously quoted “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” when he wrote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” His sentiment was itself a reincarnation of the sense of unity and common struggle expressed in the slogan “An injury to one is an injury to all.” That mantra came from the International Workers of the World (IWW), one of the most radical labor unions in U.S. history, who first worked to mobilize all workers despite their job or job status. One was rooted in Christianity; the other in labor theory. Both are a bold recognition of mutuality–of the ways in which all of us, our hopes and our struggles, are interconnected.

This same fundamental analysis is reflected in the grand narrative of the U.S. past, but in its inverse. That story has been expressed as one of increasing and expanding liberty and freedom for all, from the extension of voting rights to the end of legal sex/race discrimination. At the heart of this narrative structure is the assumption that “democracy” can only be real if it truly involves those who are governed. When the U.S. began as a nation, roughly 15% of the population had the right to vote. That’s it. Restrictions based on wealth/property, gender, race, and age, to name a few, made this the case. In time, this became proof of the lack of democracy in the nation. Accordingly, in this framework, the extension of rights to African Americans, to women, to Native Americans, were all connected, even to the rights of the landed, white male. The vote of one made the vote of all the others more real, more meaningfully democratic.

What we are faced with in the proposed measure is the antithesis of this humanistic truth, observable in the struggles of our past. Homophobia–like all fears–is isolating and reductive where humanism is expanding and interconnecting. It rests on the rejection of our commonness and mutuality. It requires a person to define those whom they fear as so different from themselves as to be “other,” foreign, dangerous, or immoral. Their threat is that they are not you. Conversely, the homphobe selectively defines their “self,” as well, choosing a set of ideas and constructs that make them who they are, facilitating the delicate game of identifying “us” and “them.”

This homophobic measure forces an historical comparison with the other kinds of oppression which nurture it and, in turn, which it nurtures. The most obvious is with the diverse and sustained effort in our shared past to maintain racism as a system of exclusion and inequality. Towards the end of its institutional decline, the supporters of racial inequality had reached a point where they recognized their cause was no longer popular enough to assure its blind support by the public at large.  The United States has become increasingly “infected” with the notion that black people were as equal as whites.  They had also become increasingly conscience of the ways racism, as a system of exclusion and oppression, ran against the idealized tradition of this nation.

At that moment, the historical record is increasingly filled with examples of racists trying to justify racism on grounds other than race.  They used arguments about state’s rights to say it was the will of the people in th South for Jim Crow to be the law.  They celebrated “separate but equal” saying it was not about inferiority, just difference.  They accused the federal government of trying to force social change when “the people” were not ready for that change.  They did what they could to make the rational argument for their irrational fear, all the while strategizing to sell it to the larger public.  Does any of this sound familiar?

One of the topics I cover each year in my introductory Latino history class is the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the first federal law effectively barring a racial group from immigrating to the U.S.  After its passage, people from Latin America continued to immigrate to the U.S. and had no legal impediment to their movement.  So why is it important to Latino history?  Well, in short, it was the first legal step in a course that nurtured racial hatred and violence against all workers of color; that led to outrages like the deportation of over one hundred thousand United States citizens because of their Mexican heritage; that even, in many ways, fostered the kinds of draconian ICE raids we suffer today.

When the irrational fear and hatred of homophobia is allowed to continue to exist in institutional and systemic ways, then we are all inured by it, whether we be gay, lesbian, transgender, or straight.

For more information, click here.

NO on Prop 8: because the other side are liars

This is the third in a five-part series on the “California Marriage Protection Act,” Proposition 8 on the November 2008 ballot. Parts one and two appeared earlier in the week.


California’s Proposition 8 seeks to amend the state Constitution by adding a section which would read: Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

The coalition of religious and conservative groups who are aligned with the “Yes on Prop. 8” effort are bold-faced, unethical liars. There. I said it. It’s that plain and that simple.

We are near the conclusion of a presidential election cycle which means most of us are awash in a sea of “spin.” The daily barrage of half-truths and outright lies is almost too much to bear. At some point, we just kind of turn it off and tune out. But it’s worth remembering that this is exactly the kind of campaign being waged right now with respect to the “Yes on Prop. 8” effort.

Here’s an example. The short paragraph I began this post with is the entire text of Prop. 8. That’s it. The measure has nothing to do with education, adoption, or economic policy. It has nothing to do with a church–any church–and its rights to do whatever they like. Nothing.

Yet you would not know that from the “Yes on Prop. 8” campaign. Their website (which I won’t link here but is really easy to find) describes the California Supreme Court decision which made same-sex marriage legal as overturning “the will of California voters.” This might seem like simple truth, since California voters passed a proposition in 2000 defining marriage as between “a man and a woman.” But it’s spin. As discussed in the previous post in this series, the process the court performs has nothing to do with “our” consensus as voters on a given position and everything to do with our consensus on a constitutional government. We demand that it is their job to make sure our government respects the laws and values as reflected in our Constitution. That’s what they did.

If we relied on the “will of the voters” to be our standard of Constitutional interpretation then segregated schools would still be the norm. When the U.S. Supremem Court issued their famous decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the vast majority of Americans supported segregated schools–and not just in the South. The point of the courts is to make their decision apart from all that, and the “Yes” folks know that. They just want to piss you off. And anyway, when did the “will of the voters” become such a static thing? Rather than just ask people how they feel about same-sex marriage, they have to make sure you don’t think about it and instead think about how much you don’t like so-called “activist courts.”

Isn’t what we’re doing in this proposition voting on whether or not it is “our will”? What sense is there in opposing a measure whose consequences you support because you don’t like how those consequences were arrived at? Why can’t we discuss the values of same-sex marriage without resorting to tactics of fear?

And that’s what helps us see the truth of the effort. The one overriding reason this side lies in order to mobilize support for their cause is that their entire cause boils down to one simple position: gay and lesbian Californians should be discriminated against in the law. They need people to turn off their commitments to equality, to decency, and to common sense. They need people to ignore the months of legal same-sex marriages in the state with no other consequence other than happy, married couples. Most Californians don’t agree with their belief, but they can be moved to vote yes if they are inundated with enough lies and half-truths to obscrue the truth of the measure. And that’s exactly what is happening.

The ads funded by the “Yes on Prop. 8” effort communicate a steady stream of bullshit meant to incite fear, hate, and some of the worse tendencies in the electorate. They say that legalized same-sex marriage means “schools will now be required to teach students that gay marriage is the same as traditional marriage.” (It should be, and I hope it is, but this proposition will not be the nail in that coffin.) They say churches will loose their tax exempt status. They say a lot, but none of it is true. Californians already know that when same-sex marriage became legal, the sky didn’t fall, the earth didn’t open up, and soceity as we know it didn’t begin it’s decline.

They are joined by more “academic” efforts as well. Groups like the Family Research Council (FRC) issue regular mailings filled with the most biased and least truthful form of dissemination of academic work, all in the name of promoting discrimination. A visit to their website shows a list of reasons to oppose the measure–all relating to adoption and the rearing of children. First of all, whether you like it or not, same-sex couples can adopt in the state of California (but not without some forms of local discrimination). If you don’t like that, try working in some public social work capacity and see what conditions tens of thousands of children are living in. You should read the research on what makes a good home for foster and adopted children, often the solution to this anti-child society. It has NOTHING to do with whether or not the parents are of the same gender or not and everything to do with the kinds of love and support they can give.

The FRC uses very specific research which studies, for example, children who are raised in single-parent households without a father, and then extrapolates it to form conclusions about two-parent households where the parents are both moms. If they were in my class they’d get an “F” for that kind of work. It’s an unfair use of research, and an unethical tactic in a political campaign.

The worst part of all of this is that these groups are supposed to be the moral and ethical ones in society. Many of them are religious and religiously affiliated. In the real world classroom of our society, they are all earning an “F” by allying themselves with a cause that is so discriminatory it can not face the substance of its very narrow stance. (I’ll say it: if Jesus were around he’d be for same-sex marriage, too!)

By spinning a campaign based on everything but the direct issue at hand, these groups are signaling voters that there is something wrong. That something, is the “Yes on Prop. 8” campaign.

For more information, click here.

NO on Prop 8: because it’s unequal

This is the second in a five-part series on the “California Marriage Protection Act,” Proposition 8 on the November 2008 ballot.


California’s Proposition 8 seeks to amend the state Constitution by adding a section which would read: Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

Currently, same-sex marriages are legal in the State of California. They were made legal after the organized and individual struggles of many people found some resolution in the courts. On May 15, 2008, in a decision relating to a number of cases consolidated before the State Supreme Court, the justices decided by a 4-3 decision that the Constitution of California required people to be treated equally with regard to the “right to marriage.” The majority decision reflected the widespread rejection of the premise “that gay individuals and same-sex couples are in some respects “second-class citizens” who may, under the law, be treated differently from, and less favorably than, heterosexual individuals or opposite-sex couples.”

Even before this court decision, California had made same-sex unions legal via the designation “domestic partnership.” While this legal designation provided same-sex couples numerous benefits and responsibilities associated with legally-defined “marriage,” it did not do so fully. There remained a legal difference (as well as a social difference) between “marriage” and “domestic partnership.” This difference, this lack of equality, proved the deciding factor for the court. It should provide the same for us as a society.

To oppose the decision of the court, and seek to reverse it via the method of a voter initiative, is to stand against the principle of equality as embedded in the laws and culture of the United States. Furthermore, it is an opposition that can not, in the long run, succeed.

As a historian, I’ve always been kind of irked by the ubiquitous tactic of the radical right labeling all court decisions they disagree with as the product of an “activist court.” This is convenient, to be sure, but it is also so hypocritical. The political system in which we live and enjoy our rights is one reliant upon the principle of judicial review. We trust the courts to be the arbiter of what is and is not in line with the constitutions of our states and our nation. This role has been played by the courts for almost as long as there has been a United States, and certainly for as long as there has been a State of California. A consequence of it is a periodic change in the law that is expansive. To object to the court’s processes by labeling a some changes as “activist” is to really object to the role they play fundamentally. It assumes the court should do nothing because they can never make a decision with an impact on the law or society, or that they can make no decision that is not popular or driven by the consensus of the people

Of course, courts are not infallible. Segregation and other forms of systemic inequality were legally protected by the same judicial system now upholding same-sex couple’s right to marry. I am not arguing that since the California courts decided in favor of same-sex marriage we must support the issue. I am far more concerned with the ways a court makes its decisions, the principles it applies and uses to frame it decisions. In this case, the overwhelming force in the court’s decision was the principle of “equality” and non-discrimination. That principle–when protected by the courts and reflected in its decisions–should also serve as a suggestion to us that they succeeded in their Constitutionally-dictated role.

Equality is fundamental to our society. We are a culture which firmly believes in the obligation of the state to treat each of us the same way as the other. Our legal history has been, in part, one of an expansion of the notion of equality. Most notably in the realm of race, our judicial system has played a primary role in communicating an evolving sense of what equality means in our nation, of who is deserving of it, and how it can go from an idea to a lived reality.

Equality has also occupied a fundamental place in the history of struggles for social justice. In almost every way, movements of people seeking a more just world have been the pretext of any court decision expanding our notion of equality. Perhaps this nurtures the “activist court” critique, but it also speaks volumes about the court system being something of a follower more than a leader in the crusade for justice and equality. As a cornerstone of movements for justice, equality has also been expansive and interconnected. The struggle for legal equality of Blacks and Whites is directly connected to later struggles for educational equality for Asians and Latinos, to marriage equality for all races, to gender equality in voting, and so on.

This interconnection makes the struggle for gay, lesbian, and transgender equality intimately part of all struggles for equality. With respect to rights, a society can not thrive for some as it flounders for others. Much like a fire, which must be fully contained if it is to cease posing a threat, injustice must be defeated everywhere if it can exist anywhere. We are all diminished in a context of inequality, as we would be with the passage of Prop. 8, whether we are within or without the LGBT community

The thirst for freedom from discrimination and for real equality is something that can not be denied, historically speaking. As Martin Luther King said in his Nobel Peace Prize address in 1964, “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself.” The condition of the denial of freedom and equality helps to nurture that thirst, as it demands mass struggle to quench it.

For more information, click here.

California’s “Gay Marriage” Proposition

Next week, aside from my regular Monday update of the news via “The Border Beat,” I will be dedicating my blog to analysis of California’s Proposition 8, the so-called “gay marriage” proposition.  Same-sex marriage is currently the law in California and Prop 8, if passed, would reverse this by creating an amendment to the State’s constitution which reads “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

Beginning Monday, I will offer a post a day analyzing the ballot measure, making a particular effort to highlight the many reasons Latinos, in particular, need to oppose it.  I hope you’ll return to read or, if you maintain a bog yourself, think about offering your own support to the cause.

Visit No On 8 for more information.

Obama, Gay Marriage, and the Latino Vote

In his 2001 collection of articles titled Magical Urbanism: Latinos Reinvent the US Big City, author Mike Davis described Latinos as a political “sleeping dragon.” Contextualizing just some of their historic political disenfranchisement from a system that simply did not care about them or their interests and needs, and contrasting that with their emerging demographic growth, he saw them as a political force about to awaken.

I believe 2008 will be largely seen as that moment when the “sleeping dragon” awoke. From the current fixation on the issue of immigration; to a widespread and diverse anti-Latino racism fueling regulations meant to continue their marginalization; to a rash of federal raids nurturing fear and causing both emotional and economic hardship; to the two main political parties seeking to garner the votes of an unknown and little understood electorate, 2008 is shaping up to be the political “coming out”–or quinceañera–party for Latinos.

The question is, what will this dragon do? Will they support Obama or McCain? Will they lean to the left or to the right? Current polls suggest what Latino scholars and pundits have been suggesting for months now: the Latino support for Clinton will easily transfer to Obama in the fall election while McCain will post decent numbers due to his previous support for immigration reform.

But don’t be too sure. This quinceañera is anything but predictable. While you’ve seen the Obama “Sí Se Puede” video in Spanish, and can already imagine the growing excitement within certain quarters of the Latino electorate to elect a person of color to the “highest position in the land,” issues like gay marriage are competing to sway Latinos to the right this fall. All-in-all, the dragon may be scorching a few of us this November.

While most will see this year as the actual political emergence of Latinos, it is not. Latinos have been “announcing” their political presence for generations. But that voice has rarely been heard or measured in a national sense.

Latinos have been politically active since the United States invaded and conquered the northern two-fifths of their nation in the U.S.-Mexico War (1846-1848). In the wake of the military conquest came the political and economic conquest, a time of sustained marginalization and political disenfranchisement. Upper-class Mexicans often served as part of that process, trying to align themselves with the U.S. newcomers, often at the expense of the poor, laboring class of (most often mixed-race) Mexicans and Indians who made up the majority of the population. Those masses often engaged in informal kinds of political acts, like banditry, the creation of community organizations and institutions, and other forms of resistance. [See see Acuña 2006; Chávez-García 2004; Hurtado 1990; and Pitt1969]

In the early 20th century, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and Mexicans organized trade unions, mutual aide societies, and political clubs throughout the U.S. In the 1920s middle-class professionals in Texas founded LULAC, an organization promoting both cultural and political assimilation of Mexican Americans into mainstream U.S. society. In the 1930s, a host of labor and political organizations protested the forced and illegal deportation of more than 125,000 Mexicans from the Southwest, most of which were legal, U.S.-born citizens. Beginning in the same period, Puerto Ricans in New York began to mobilize in East Harlem to have a political voice. They eventually secured educational rights for their children and, after WWII, helped elect a socialist to the House of Representatives. In the 1940s and 1950s a growing number of organizations like American G.I Forum, MAPA, and the CSO also fought to secure the political rights of Mexicans and Mexican Americans in a time of rising expectations and growing frustrations with a system that struggled to practice the “freedom and democracy” it preached. [See Acuña 2006; Whalen, et. al. 2005; Sánchez Korrol 1983]

In the 1960s, Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans mobilized behind the first formal, national electorate endeavors seeking to register and win the support of Latino voters. These campaigns–called “Viva Kennedy” and, later, “Viva Johnson”–were the first time a presidential campaign reached out to Latinos. In the case of Kennedy in 1960, these efforts may have proved crucial to his victory, at the time, the slimmist in U.S. History.

From the 1960s onward, as the Democratic Party became the national party of Civil Rights in the realm of education, work, voting, and public housing, a kind of “Civil Rights Coalition” developed uniting most voters of color, with unionized working class voters, and others. It was not until the 1980s, and the candidacy of Ronald Regan, that any noticeable challenges were made to this coalition (as he chipped away at the working-class white base of the Democratic Party)

Latino Voters and the Recent Past
Though Regan supported and secured major immigration legislation (the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986), Latino voters remained largely Democratic with a handful of local exceptions. The 1990s further swayed them to the left as the Republican Party, in a host of both big states and border states, began supporting restrictive measures targeting Latinos and other populations of color. The various anti-Affirmative Action campaigns in California, Michigan, Texas, and Florida, as well as efforts like California’s Proposition 187, helped politically educate an electorate coming of age.

Bill Clinton received the benefit of these decades of political machinations in his election and reelection bids in the 1990s. In 1996, even after supporting legislation that militarized the border and increased border deaths by shocking degrees, he won the Latino vote handily. In Texas, he won more than three quarters of them. He won them in California. He even came close to winning the Cuban American vote, at the time still unquestionably Republican.

George Bush entered the national political arena with the reputation of a pro-Latino, border state governor. In 2000, that got him a respectable third of the Latino vote, this despite the Democratic Patry’s seemingly secure lock on raza. In 2004, much to everybody’s surprise, he was reelected with as much as 44% of the Latino electorate.

How did conservative begin to tap into Latino America? One way was gay marriage.

Before I go on it is important for me to clarify that Latinos are not any more homophobic than anyone else. If you are about to analyze the numbers of Latinos who are anti-gay marriage as proof of “these people’s homophobia,” just check yourself. Remember, Latinos–like white voters, Black voters, Native American voters, and Asian voters–are diverse in their beliefs and shortcomings.

Gay Marriage as a Conservative Electoral Strategy
Clearly, Karl Rove deserves a lot of credit with regards to Bush’s victory in 2004, both with Latino and non-Latino voters. Part of that strategy was to force the conservative base to come out, a bloc whose votes represent a small but solid margin upon which to build a victory in any number of swing states. One of the primary issues that brought them out was gay marriage.

In 11 states (some of them clear swing states), Republicans ran anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives, though in each case gay marriage was already illegal. This is an important thing to remember. This was a time when both federal and state laws effectively made these unions not only illegal, buy unlikely to become legal in the near future. The one exception was Massachusetts, which had recently become the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry.

Now the new exception is California. And California will be joined this fall by others in confronting new anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives in the polling booth. The states include Arizona, Florida, and possibly others. Arkansas has an initiative to ban same-sex couples from adopting.

Without question, Latinos–heavily Catholic and prone to conservative issues in the social arena–are among the constituencies of support for these homophobic measures. But they are also the same for other progressive measures, including the efforts to defeat these ballot initiatives.

Where will they fall?

The Outlook in 2008
As the Los Angeles Times and many others have reported, the results of a recent Gallup Poll show Obama beating McCain among likely Latino voters 62% to 29%. But these numbers are not fixed in stone. One of the issues that has the potential to sway Latino voters will be the issue of gay marriage.

This is an issue that can go both ways. While conservative homophobes may have an upper hand on the surface, the pro-egalitarian side of the debate also has the potential to resonate with Latinos. The question is, who will get to them first?

My great fear is that, in California and elsewhere, the coalitions fighting against these restrictive ballot measures won’t reach out in any organized and systematic way to Latino voters. This may be a huge mistake, because, I assure you, the other side already is.

The anti-gay marriage coalition is surprisingly diverse and, most importantly, grass roots. They are made up of small organizations, on the ground, who can reach out to and mobilize voters. They were ready to get their measure on the California ballot before the State Supreme Court even issued their decision on May 15th [see the San Francisco Chronicle article on this here]. And, as should be of no surprise to anyone following Latino politics and religion, a core constituency group of this grassroots coalition are Latino churches.

A list of the organizations composing the coalition in California can be found here. Among them are a host of Latinos and Latino organizations. The Alliance for Marriage, a national coalition responsible for the upcoming ballot proposition in California, includes even more. Their Board of Advisors includes a list of politically mobilized Latino evangelicals who are already beginning their efforts to win over Spanish-speaking voters this fall.

Latinos are in many ways less homophobic than the average U.S. American. This may surprise many people “north of the border,” but it is a strong lesson in the ability of homophobic practices to change to fit the circumstance. Latin American Catholicism is almost always less absolute than Anglo American Puritanism. That said, Latinos in the U.S. are also more religious than the typical U.S. American voter. The issue of gay marriage in 2008 may be the focal point upon which this vote pivots.