Thursday, November 13, 2008

Passage of anti-gay measures makes for a bittersweet election By Kent Burbank

Election night was an emotional highpoint for me. As the news of Barack Obama's victory was announced, a wave of euphoria followed by relief washed over me. For the first time in eight years, I felt hope for America's future.

Election night 2008 renewed my optimism and restored my faith in our country. But the morning after the election, my new-found faith in America took a startling blow as I discovered that nearly every anti-gay measure in the country passed. Arizonans and Floridians voted overwhelmingly to amend their state constitutions to prohibit marriage equality.

Arkansas voted to prohibit unmarried couples who live together (read: gay couples) from fostering or adopting children. And, in the biggest disappointment of the evening, Californians decided to strip marriage rights away from same-sex couples.

Suddenly, the election was very bittersweet. The dichotomy cannot be more striking or alarming.

With one hand, Americans voted overwhelmingly to turn the page on centuries of discrimination and embrace a more just and fair vision of the future. With the other hand, they voted to codify America's separate and unequal treatment of gay people.

Never have I felt so torn and conflicted. I feel a profound sense of sadness and loss while desperately clinging to the elusive hope that this election inspires in me.

Part of me celebrates this historic turning point in our shameful history of racism and bigotry, while my other half mourns that the vision of a more just America apparently does not extend to its gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

America must do some deep soul searching. What do our values of liberty and equality mean if they truly aren't for everyone? We need to fully grapple with our long history of discrimination. This election, while clearly a milestone, is no magic bullet.

Although laws have long since prohibited it, African-Americans have faced and will likely continue to face subtle forms of unequal treatment. For gay people, we haven't even reached the point where the rule of law protects us. And, in this election, we actually moved further away from this goal.

At the state and federal levels, gay people have no legal protections against discrimination and have none of the relationship rights that heterosexual married couples enjoy.

I am left to reconcile these two disparate Americas and simply cannot. I desperately want to join in the merriment and the invitation to help build a new America, but I can't help but feel that my invitation to the party was rescinded at the last moment.

It shouldn't be this way. No group of Americans should feel so bereft at a time of such great rejoicing, and no one should be denied their place in the creation of this more just America.

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