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Watershed elections for marriage equality

Posted: October 19th, 2012 | Columns, Featured, Political Spectrum | No Comments

Allan Acevedo | Political Spectrum

Allan Acevedo

It is LGBT History month and the LGBT community has long said we’re living in a watershed moment for equality. That statement could not be as apropos as it is now. Every pundit, news anchor and political campaign has stressed the significance and importance of this upcoming election. There is something to be said when people from both camps are investing so much time and energy to ensure as many people turn out to vote as possible.

This is an important year and an important election, especially for LGBT Americans. Here in California we await the United States Supreme Court’s decision on whether to hear an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that struck down Proposition 8 as unconstitutional.

As we await that ruling, we must recognize that nationally, our rights are on the chopping block through popular vote four more times: in Maryland, Maine and Washington we are fighting for marriage equality and in Minnesota there is yet another ban on the ballot. There is a lot on the line, more than each of these represents on their own.

Friends have told me not to worry. That history is on our side and we will eventually win. I don’t think that is the right attitude. We need to think creatively and actively about what we can do to ensure history will stand on the side of equality now. Now being the operative word. We can’t keep waiting for justice to devolve out to our community.

We have to take personal responsibility for advancing the cause of equality. I feel like I’m just standing here on a soapbox asking others to get engaged, but it has to be done. History has not been on our side.

We have lost a ballot-box vote on this very issues 32 times since 1998. That year, Alaska and Hawaii each limited marriage rights to opposite-sex couples with a 68 percent and 69 percent margin, respectively. Our most resounding loss came in 2004 when a grand total of 86 percent of Mississippi voters approved Amendment 1 banning same-sex marriages in the Magnolia State.

We have definitely come a long way from those days. Here in California we only lost 52 percent of the vote, though here in San Diego it was closer to almost 54 percent. We’re not there yet and you can’t just expect forms of institutional oppression to be cast aside by a popular vote without an intensive and personal campaign that galvanizes even the most apolitical of supporters.

Popular votes on issues of equality and fairness are not easily won. Our constitution went into effect in 1789 and women did not win a popular vote on suffrage until 1893 in Colorado. Anti-miscegenation laws – laws preventing marriages among interracial couples – had been on the books since Maryland’s 1664 law which forced Caucasian women who married a male slave to serve the slave-owner for the remainder of her husband’s life.

These laws were not ruled unconstitutional until the oft-cited 1967 Loving vs. Virginia Supreme Court Case, which issued a unanimous ruling. Even with this ruling, don’t think attitudes have changed entirely. In 2000, Alabama sought to remove the embarrassing statute in its state constitution that barred interracial marriage and found 59.5 percent approval. When it came to voting on eliminating an unenforceable ban on interracial marriage, 40 percent of voters refused to let it go. A Gallup Poll conducted last year found 16 percent of Caucasians did not approved of inter-racial marriage, and only 34 percent of seniors.

The tide may be moving in our favor, but this is not a passive wave of equality that will sweep the nation. We are at a tangible point in our history where we can chose to impact the outcome of the elections in these four states and maybe, just maybe, win one for our team. Just one victory could go a long way in dismantling the argument that public sentiment is against equality. One ballot-box vote for fairness could show the world that United States citizens understand fairness.

This victory will be crucial in framing the debate as the fight for marriage equality is likely to reach the Supreme Court this year. The past few weeks have been rife with speculation about which of the many cases the high court will take up, including the Prop 8 challenge and challenges to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

I’ll leave the reading of the tea leaves on that matter to constitutional scholars, but I will say that a ballot-box vote in any four of these upcoming elections that is in our favor is essential to assert that public opinion on the matter is fundamentally changing and moving toward the side of equality. We can then be more certain that the courts would be willing to give history a little nudge in our favor. This election is the watershed moment we’ve been talking about.

—Allan Acevedo is co-founder and president emeritus of Stonewall Young Democrats of San Diego. He has worked on multiple political campaigns and served on numerous boards including the San Diego Democratic Club, California Young Democrats, Gay-Straight Alliant Network and Equality California PAC. Follow @allanacevedo on Twitter.

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