Monday, 10 November 2008

Marriage of convenience

It was an historic occasion

Millions of people, from myriad backgrounds, came together to cast a decisive vote. A chance, as they saw it, to make amends for the mistakes of the past. The time to demonstrate that America was a country where no one should be afraid to stand up for their inalienable right.

The right to discriminate against people who are different.

Thus it was that Californians shamed themselves and their state by voting through proposition 8, removing the right of their fellow citizens to marry the ones they love. The Arizonans and the Floridians passed similar bans, but there are two reasons to be particularly disappointed with the Golden state.

Firstly, and it may sound puerile to say so, California should know better. With a thriving, diverse population and a tradition of being left of America’s political centre the state is an obvious place for tolerance to thrive. In condemning the state one should be careful – many great people and organisations campaigned tirelessly to prevent the ballot initiative from being passed, including the state’s (Republican) governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the usually politically quiet Google. Nonetheless a coalition of the intolerant came together, spread lies about the effects of allowing gay marriage to continue in the state and succeeded in their aims. It is particularly demoralising to see that, just as they united to vote for an inspiring candidate to overcome racial prejudice, black voters voted overwhelmingly to reinforce prejudice on another minority group.

Secondly the ballot initiative in California was different from that elsewhere. Gay marriage was legal in California until the day of the election. Only in California did voters have the option of removing an existing right. It was hoped that by expressing the initiative as one that took away rights from the state's citizens it would be less likely to succeed. It was not to be.

There are hopes that California's supreme court will strike down the initiative, or at the very least existing married couples will be spared the indignity of having their marriage stripped away by the state. Nonetheless, it is critical to remember that as America set an inspiring example to the world, it also showed just how far is left until the tenants of American democracy; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, are truly realised.

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