While so many hail the election of Democratic candidate Barack Obama into the White House as a symbol of “hope” and “change” in these difficult times, there are many Americans finding these celebrations bittersweet. This election could aid in launching the U.S. into a new bright era of economic and social reform, but three states instated bans on gay marriage. So much for change.
California, Arizona, and Florida’s state governments passed bans or amendments that enforced legal recognition of marriage as a civil union between a man and a woman. The text of Proposition 8, California’s ban on gay marriage, went so far as to state, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized.” Up until the passing of Proposition 8, gay marriage was legal in California. For five months thousands of gay couples enjoyed the equal and unlimited right to marry. The ban means that these couples may now find their marriages unrecognized and illegitimate under the law.
Massachusetts and Connecticut are now the only states where same-sex marriages are legal. Outside of these states, such marriages are only recognized in New York and Rhode Island. More than 40 states now have constitutional bans or laws against same-sex marriages. These restrictions prevent gay and queer couples from enjoying the same rights as heterosexual couples, and at the end of the day, that is the message sent to all queer people (assimilationist or anarchist; gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or Queer); “we as a government are not recognizing you or your behaviours as valid.”
The issue at hand is beyond the rights of queer people to get married, to have civil unions, or to adopt and hold joint custody of children. It is beyond what it says about a relationship on a piece of paper, the ability to share bank accounts, or spousal inclusion on insurance forms. All of these things are essential to the day-to-day lives of queer couples, but they all add to the question that is on my mind and the minds of many – however they identify – “will we ever see a time when all of the residents of a country are ‘valid and recognized?’”
The U.S. elections are an undeniable step backward for the queer and gay rights movements in the States, as well as any social movement by a minority group. Will we allow the recent political victory for the majority overshadow the losses of the minority? And when we talk about “change,” who do we have in mind? As these elections have made clear, certainly not all Americans, and certainly not gay people.
R. Dooley is a U1 Psychology and Women’s Studies student, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.