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Across the country

Thousands in streets defend same-sex rights

Right-wing churches bankrolled Prop. 8 in Calif.

Published Nov 14, 2008 2:26 PM

The election victory of Barack Obama will go down in history as a triumphant step forward in the struggle against racism and national oppression in the U.S. Unfortunately, it was also an election where more than 10 million voters in Florida, Arizona and California supported right-wing ballot initiatives to deny marriage rights to lesbian, gay, bi and trans people.

Thirty states now have constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. A proposal in Arkansas was also passed to stop gay men and lesbians from adopting children.

The struggle around California’s Proposition 8, which amends the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry, garnered national attention. Prop. 8 was the highest-funded campaign in any state and exceeded every other electoral campaign in spending except for the presidential race.

Prop. 8 was launched by ProtectMarriage.com to counter the California Supreme Court’s May 15 ruling which deemed unconstitutional a 2000 ban on same-sex marriage. “Vote Yes on Prop. 8” forces raised $35.8 million. The ban won 52 to 48 percent.

The coalition of right-wing organizations that supported Prop. 8 included the Roman Catholic Church, Knights of Columbus, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, American Family Association, Focus on the Family and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon).

The Utah-centered Mormon Church actively organized support for Prop. 8 and raised significant funds in both that state and California. Every congregation was read a letter in support of the bigoted ballot measure and urged to donate and raise funds. About 45 percent of donations to ProtectMarriage.com from outside California came from Utah, much more than any other state. (Mercury News, Oct. 24)

Prop. 8 marriage ban ignites protests

On Nov. 4 across the country, LGBT people of all nationalities gathered to watch and then celebrate Obama’s victory. But on Nov. 5—with the announcement of the passing of Prop. 8—a new firestorm of protest was ignited. LGBT political and legal organizations immediately started an appeal process.

An estimated 10,000 people rallied, marched, sat down in the streets and/or shut down traffic in Los Angeles and San Francisco. On Nov. 6, the protests spread to more cities, including San Diego and Westwood, Calif. More than 3,000 people protested on Nov. 7 in downtown Salt Lake City at the Mormon temple and church headquarters.

Actions took place throughout California on Nov. 8, including a march of 13,000 in Los Angeles and 10,000 in San Diego. On Nov. 9, the California Highway Patrol was forced to close two state highway traffic ramps for 13 hours, as 350 people protested outside the largest Mormon temple in Oakland.

Saturday, Nov. 15, has been called as a national day of action against Prop. 8. In California, protesters are planning massive rallies at city halls all across the state. Legal and economic campaigns have been launched throughout the country to strip the Mormon Church of its tax-exempt status. An economic boycott is being discussed.

According to the Associated Press: “Utah’s growing tourism industry and the star-studded Sundance Film Festival are being targeted for a boycott by bloggers, gay rights activists and others seeking to punish the Mormon church for its aggressive promotion of California’s ban on gay marriage. It could be a heavy price to pay. Tourism brings in $6 billion a year to Utah.” (Nov. 6)

Don’t blame Prop. 8 win on Black community

In a despicable effort—played heavily in the media—to deflect attention from the rich and powerful religious right, California’s Black communities have been blamed for Prop. 8’s passage. The media falsely concluded that the high voter turnout of Black people resulted in the measure’s passage.

The LGBT movement has been erroneously depicted as entirely white and middle class, and Black communities as politically conservative, highly religious and heterosexual.

But LGBT communities and movements in the U.S. are overwhelmingly multinational and working class in character, and neither Prop. 8 nor the oppression of LGBT people originates from the African-American community. The millions in donations raised by the anti-LGBT forces did not come from the pockets of Black churchgoers.

A new study released by the University of California, Los Angeles-based Williams Institute indicates that more than 7,400 Black men and women in California are in same-sex relationships. Fifty-five percent of Black women and 11 percent of Black men are raising children within these couples, the study found. It also found economic disparities among Black same-sex couples and their heterosexual counterparts.

Christopher Ramos, the study’s co-author, noted: “These analyses break stereotypes about gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, like the idea that they are all wealthy. We find that gay and bisexual [African-American] men in California have household incomes that are 44 percent lower than their heterosexual counterparts.” (L.A. Reporter, Oct. 23)

In a statement, Kathryn Kolbert, a reproductive rights attorney and president of the pro-LGBT People for the American Way, countered the divisive news coverage: “[We have looked] at the basic numbers and concluded that it is simply false to suggest that Prop. 8 would have been defeated if African Americans had been more supportive.

“The amendment seems to have passed by more than half a million votes, and the number of black voters, even with turnout boosted by the presidential race, couldn’t have made up that difference. ... Republicans and white churchgoers, among many other groups, voted for Prop. 8 at higher rates than African Americans. ...Who’s really to blame? The religious right.” (www.pfaw.org)

The right-wing campaign of lies and deception during the campaign included “robocalls” directed at Black households that falsely portrayed Obama as a Prop. 8 supporter. In fact, it was Black communities and religious leaders who mobilized to counter much of the right-wing efforts.

The California NAACP sent mailers opposing Prop. 8 to 140,000 Black households. In October the campaign in the Black community against Prop. 8 ranged from an evening of preaching against Prop. 8 at a predominantly Black church in San Francisco to a press conference held on the steps of Oakland’s city hall by prominent African-American leaders.

While John McCain was a supporter of Prop. 8 and Obama publicly opposed it, both candidates voiced opposition to gay marriage. Obama is only for the right of civil unions for LGBT persons, which do not confer the same rights and benefits as marriage does.

According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force: “The 1,138 federal benefits and protections of marriage are only available to couples that are allowed to legally marry. These include Social Security survivor and spousal benefits, the ability to file a joint tax return, immigration rights, and coverage under the Family and Medical Leave Act. To date, civil unions are not ‘portable,’ meaning that when a couple moves to another state, none of the benefits, rights or responsibilities coming from civil unions move with them.”

At the heart of the Prop. 8 and marriage equality struggle is the right to health care and employment benefits that all workers of every nationality, gender and sexuality should have. LGBT marriage is essentially about workers’ rights. This is why organized labor has fought the bosses to have domestic partner benefits in their contracts. Prop. 8 is a setback to the entire progressive movement for social and economic justice.

It is not surprising during this capitalist economic crisis that the right wing poured millions of dollars into a campaign to deny benefits to LGBT workers. At the heart of their efforts is an attempt by the entire ruling class to pit workers and oppressed communities against each other in the hope we won’t unite to fight back against them.

The struggle to overturn Prop. 8 will continue. A multinational, multisexuality movement will be a powerful force to turn back all the economic attacks coming down on the working class in this period.