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It's Not a Gay Issue

ChicoSol, Commentary, Alexa Valavanis Posted: May 28, 2009

CHICO, Calif. About 100 people gathered in Chico May 26 to support, protest, celebrate or mourn the California Supreme Court ruling on Proposition 8. I was there. So were many of my dear friends and colleagues. The relentless Northern California sun welcomed the rally's participants. The summer's modest afternoon traffic trickled by. The University students were long gone, and local pub patrons had just begun to tiptoe into their venues of choice. Presenters from as far away as Utah took the newly renovated city plaza stage to share their stories, their particular vantage point about this day.

However, for me, it had started many months before.

It was a clear autumn night, on the fourth day of November 2008. Unprecedented numbers of Americans waited in stretched lines to cast their votes, young and old, many engaging in our political process for the first time. As the sun bid farewell to the day and the electors began casting their golden votes here at home and around the globe, people paused to listen. If you were quiet enough, you could actually hear "hope" bounce around the atmosphere like the sound of a sunrise or the first bloom after a long winter.

Many believed Sen. Barack Obama took the White House by a national mandate, commingling the old and predictable map of red and blue states into a sea of purple. It was a sea made up of people of all colors, religions, sexual orientations, politics and views. Yet, they had one history-making commonality on that November night. They chose an intellectual who wouldn't shy away from being intelligent in order to appeal to the average voter. They chose a man encouraging unity, not division a leader promoting hope and not fear.

For many, Obama embodies change. He stands where he stands today as a black man, but not because he is black. I echo the thoughts of so many others when I say he inspires me. I am even prouder today to be an American than I have been for the past 32 years.

Yet, amid all of this light, there was a shadow on that cloudless day.

On the very same ballot that illustrated the pinnacle of change for a nation that once allowed slavery of a people based on the color of their skin, and denied equal rights to 50 percent of its population based on gender - our largest state voted "yes" on a proposition of discrimination.

The most painful factor regarding the passing of Proposition 8 is not simply the narrow margin that it passed by, but the untruths and lies that drove people to "yes."

Simply put, there is no correlation between protecting the right of gays to marry and new curriculum in schools. None. They used our children to get their "yes." They misled our parents to get their "yes." There is no correlation between protecting the rights of gays to marry and the tax-exempt status of our churches. None. They used and misled people of faith to get their "yes."

Moreover, how can two citizens of the same state have different rights under the same constitution? We certainly cannot give the majority a way to discriminate against a minority through ballot measures. James Madison articulated it best in the Federalist Paper 51, when he wrote: "It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure."

Fortunately, our courts are here to protect minorities against the unfair will of majorities, if and when needed. Will they get this right, eventually? We know that even the highest court of our land ruled on the wrong side of equality at one time. In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Robert B. Taney, declared that all blacks slaves as well as free were not and could not become citizens of the United States. But, they found their way to justice eventually.

Still, even with my quiet faith that equality will prevail, I am perplexed.

Many people Obama's camp rallied to vote on that historic Election Day in November voted yes for equality at the top of the ticket, and yes to discrimination at the bottom of the ticket. Many know the plight of discrimination intimately. Must we learn each lesson of equality separately? Must we ourselves be discriminated against before we can rise up to fight for others?

If we've learned as a nation that separate is not equal, then why must we try and apply this broken logic again in pointing to civil unions as the solution to denying one group of citizens the right other citizens have? Equality does not have degrees; it either is or is not equal.

There will be a day when the children of this state look back and are amazed by the institutionalized inequality and discrimination that once existed in this land. Until that day, everyone who believes in equality must stand up and fight for it. This is not a gay issue. This is a human rights issue.

Alexa Valavanis is the CEO of North Valley Community Foundation. She is currently working on her first non-fiction book called "Live to Give."

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