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Prop. 8 Debate Draws Ethnic Media, Fans Tensions

New America Media, News Report, Carolyn Ji Jong Goossen Posted: Oct 30, 2008

Editor's note: Tempers flared at a debate Wednesday between supporters and opponents of Prop. 8, the ballot measure that would make same-sex marriage illegal. The New America Media-sponsored debate, held at the San Francisco Foundation, drew 30 ethnic media reporters and exposed sharp divisions in the Asian, Latino and African American communities. Carolyn Ji Jong Goossen writes for New America Media.

SAN FRANCISCOPassions flared during a debate Wednesday on Proposition 8, the ballot measure that would prohibit same-sex marriage in California. A panel of three supporters and three opponents of the measure faced off in the event sponsored by New America Media for the ethnic media. (Listen to audio from the event)

Emil Guillermo moderatesOlga Talamante, left, Rev. Deborah Johnson, Tawal Panyacosit and Emil Guillermo, moderator

Pro-prop. 8 panelists argued that "common sense" dictated that the historic nature of marriage as an institution between a man and a woman could not be expanded to include same-sex couples. They also insisted that children would be harmed because they would be subjected to education on homosexuality in public schools if prop. 8 failed to pass.

"Asian parents feel the government is taking away their right to teach their children what is right or wrong," said Bill Tam, executive director of the Traditional Family Council. "[State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack] O'Connell claims that schools aren't going to teach same-sex marriage in schools but that's an insult to our intelligenceit's already happening."

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who is featured in an ad produced by the pro-Prop 8. Campaign declaring about same-sex marriage " Its gonna happen, whether you like it or not" drew Tams ire. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kKn5LNhNto "Coming from communist or dictatorship countries, Tam said, we know what it's like to be told that you must accept something whether you like it or not."

Opponents of Prop.8 argued that the measure would deny civil rights guaranteed to same-sex couples by the state constitution and upheld by the Supreme Court. They compared the effort to outlaw same-sex marriage to struggles against slavery and for women and voter rights. And they challenged the idea that public schools would "teach" same-sex marriage.

Martin Ford and Rev. Derek McCoyProp. 8 supporters Martin Ford, left, and Rev. Derek McCoy

"Throughout history, having legal rights and specifically, rights guaranteed by the Constitution, has been our only defense against those who sought to violate our human and civil rights," said Olga Talamante, executive director of the Chicana Latina Foundation.

"The truth is, nothing in Proposition 8 mentions education", said Tawal Panyacosit Jr., director of API (Asian Pacific Islander) Equality. "Proposition 8 is about removing rights from one group of people." He noted that parents and guardians have broad authority to remove their children from curriculum content that they disagree with.

Emil Guillermo, Asian Week editorial writer, moderated the debate, which grew increasingly heated. Martin Ford, spokesman for Prop. 8, called opposition to the measure a "frontal attack on the rights of children, and an attack on humanity and reason." The Rev. Deborah Johnson, president of Inner Light Ministries in Santa Cruz said, "As African Americans, we know what it's like to be denied rights."

During a question and answer session with ethnic media reporters, India Currents editor Ragini Sreenivasan said the arguments against same-sex marriage were similar to those made against interracial marriage, which was illegal in some states until 1967.

Tam insisted that interracial marriage couldn't be compared to gay marriage because it was still between a man and woman and included the potential for having biological children. Further, Tam said, race and sexual orientation were not comparable.

"Race is unchangeable from birth," Tam said. "But homosexuality is a sexual orientation, and I have many friends who went from homosexuality back to heterosexuality."

Mitchell Fitzhugh-Craig, columnist with the African American publication, The Globe, asked, "how does preventing two people in love from being together destroy the union of marriage?"

"Saying that any two people in love are entitled to marriage is a very dangerous statement," responded Ford. "A child can't marry an adult, and what about brothers and sisters? If only love is needed to consummate marriages, America will go downhill."

Supporters of same-sex marriage argued that it would strengthen, not undermine the institution of marriage and society in general. "Gay marriage strengthens the economy. It brings two incomes together," Panyacosit said. "We arebuilding stronger families and communities to face the challenges ahead."

Noting that only 23 percent of U.S. households are married couples, New America Media executive director Sandy Close, asked Prop. 8 supporters if same-sex marriage wouldn't bolster the institution of marriage at a time when it is faltering.

The Rev. Derek McCoy, African American outreach coordinator for the Protect Marriage Campaign, agreed that he wanted to strength marriage, "but from a sacred perspective, we want marriage to remain between a man and a woman."

Acknowledging the divisions Prop. 8 has revealed and even nurtured in many communities, reporter Cecilia Im with Chinese TV station KTSF, asked, "After the election, how are we going to resolve this issue in the community?"

Panelists on both sides agreed that it was important to work together in the future, but no one had an answer.

"There have been divisions on this issue," said Panyacosit, "but the dialogue will continue and has to continue."

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