I spent a chunk of 2008 spending my Tuesday nights (and a couple of Thursdays, and a couple of weekend shifts with friends) phone banking to try to stop California’s Prop 8 — a ballot measure that would take gay marriage away from a state that already had marriage equality.
We had lists of people who were presumed swing voters, so mostly I talked to very nice and supportive people, helping them untangle the fact that you had to vote NO to support marriage equality. (I still have no idea how many votes we lost on that one toward the end, we found out that one anti-gay group was calling likely liberals and saying “Remember, vote YES to support gay marriage!” Because if there’s one thing that shows you have a just cause, it’s lying.)
But I didn’t always talk to nice and supportive people. Sometimes there was a queasy silence and then they said they supported Prop 8. The end of those phone calls were an interesting illustration of how politeness quietly keeps society from collapsing.
I had a couple of people get in my face while I was flyering on the street, usually men who would get right up in my face, mutter “Yes on 8” so no one else could hear, and then walk away.
And, insanely, as the weeks went on, the tide turned more and more against us. Ads ran that California schoolchildren would be… taught to be gay? Or something? Even though we already had gay marriage and that schoolkid thing hadn’t happened yet? The ads never seemed to make sense, but they worked. We lost ground every week.
On election night, I flyered until well after dark, texting election results with friends. I remember heading back to my No on 8 headquarters and reassuring one of the reps that those two small-looking blue spots on the state of Virginia were where are the people were. But I didn’t check the ballot measure results. We knew we were losing.
I raced off to watch Obama’s speech with friends. One kept trying to look up the Prop 8 results on the Internet for me and I kept begging him to stop. I wanted to be able to enjoy the national election results without having to think about what California might have done.
And deep in my heart, I still had hope that we wouldn’t lose. I lived in California, for Chrissakes. Yes, I had had some teenage boys scream at me that I was “sick” that night, but surely they were an anomaly. I had to believe that basic humanity would win out.
I was numb after I looked at the results the next morning. Obama had won, but we had lost. I went out too late to get a newspaper — everyone wanted the front page. I ran pointless, fruitless errands, came home, and then slid down the back of my front door and sat on the floor, crying. Enough people in my big hippy granola thought there was something so fundamentally wrong with people like me that they had changed the law. It brought the prejudice home in the way that individual slights never had.
The backlash was justifiably enraged. The streets filled, over and over. Protests filled West Hollywood, then downtown. One of the marches surrounded the Mormon Temple, then spilled out of its authorized boundaries to take over Wilshire Boulevard. At the time, it felt like impotent fury. I wish I could go back and reassure myself about how much good it would end up doing.
Because the cartoonish injustice of Prop 8 — taking marriage away from a group that already had it — is what really showed the nation how disgusting and ridiculous the anti-equality laws really were. And gradually, the national mood turned from “What’s the big deal?” and “It makes me uncomfortable” to open mockery of people who were still backward enough to try to stop two consenting, loving adults from getting married.
It took an outrage. But after that, it took less than a decade.
Today I’m crying because I’m looking at pictures of my married friends who can stay married no matter what state they’re in, because I’m looking at pictures of the Dallas County men who have been together for 55 years and can finally make it legal. Love is love after all.
Remember that. Remember that always. Remember that when you feel like your cause is lost and no one supports you. You can change the hearts of millions of people. You can help make a positive difference in the world. People will see you, and they will begin to understand.
Happy Pride. Celebrate well. Love who you love.