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Gays in the Age of Obama - It's Their Party and They'll Cry if They Want to

New America Media, Commentary, Sandip Roy Posted: Nov 06, 2008

Editor's Note: Once again, California has said no to same sex marriage. But gays and lesbians are resilient. They had relationships before there was even a name for the movement. They had babies and families and didnt wait to ask for permission from the larger society, writes NAM editor Sandip Roy.

SAN FRANCISCO -This is the image Ill always remember from election night 2008.

A gay man standing outside the grand ballroom of the St. Francis Westin hotel in San Francisco. He had one finger to his ear to block out the hubbub inside, and an Iphone clamped to the other.
 Honey he was yelling into the phone. I cried. When Obama spoke, I cried.

Inside the ballroom it was bittersweet. Barack Obama was the president elect. But same sex marriage was being overturned by California voters. Prop 8 was winning by a slim margin, but winning. In Arkansas, an adoption ban passed. In Arizona and Florida bans on same sex marriage passed easily.
All this on a night when Obama swept the country in a landslide on a promise of change. On a night when pro-choice groups racked up victories. Even chickens had something to rejoice about in California.

In the end it seemed the gays were the scapegoats, the ones left behind at the back of the bus.
Had we asked for too much, too soon, to a country that was not ready to give us the full measure of our dignity?

It didnt seem that way in the ballroom of the St. Francis. In the heart of San Franciscos gay neighborhood, the Castro, it was New Years Eve come a few months too early. But not any New Years Eve - a once in a lifetime turn of the century.

It was insane texted a friend. He said the streets had turned into a giant party. People were hugging, kissing, shaking the hands of strangers. Even in the ballroom of the St. Francis, where the most committed same sex marriage activists had gathered, the emphasis was on the sweet in the bittersweet.

I think for one very precious moment we were larger than ourselves. In a country beset by identity politics, wed soon be analyzing the Latino vote and the Asian vote. Did the black vote tip the balance on same sex marriage? What about the youth vote? All that would come later, in the dissection and re-dissection of the polls. But for one emotional un-cynical moment we were reveling in something that was bigger than all of our labels.

Its not a post-racial America by any means. But it was a moment when many of could look at each other and after a long time say not The President of the USA but our president.

 That feeling, however ephemeral it might be, is more powerful than any ban on any marriage ceremony anywhere.

Gay men and women are resilient. They had relationships before there was even a name for the movement. They had babies and families and didnt wait to ask for permission from the larger society. Their families are growing up all around us, marriage ban or no marriage ban. My gay friends twin daughters went out this Halloween in matching skeleton outfits, collecting their treats with confidence and charm. They will not stand for their families being outsiders in America. Even now 61 percent of people under 30 supported same sex marriage.

In some ways what was astonishing is that it had come this far so soon. Over and over again I heard on television people say, I didnt think Id see a black man become president in my lifetime. 

I must admit I didnt think wed be voting on same sex marriage, and coming within 400,000 votes out of 10 million, in mine. Even eight years ago, when Prop 22 banned same sex marriage in California, the margin was 61.4 percent to 38.6 percent. Now its less than 5 percent .

The election of a black man to the presidency was a powerful symbol of a psychological change that had started with the legislative changes of the civil rights movement. The gay community knows that. It is fighting its battles in courts to change laws. The day after the elections, groups filed a lawsuit asking the courts to invalidate Prop. 8 even if it passes. But the vote on Prop. 8 showed it has some ways to go in changing hearts and minds.

That might have to happen the hard way one person coming out at a time to their families, communities, co-workers.

But if the victory of Barack Obama shows anything, despite whispers of the Bradley effect and coded messages on robocalls, its that yes, we can.

My friend who had volunteered for the first time in his life in the same sex marriage campaign was disappointed. He had stood at the turnstiles at the BART station in Fremont to hand out fliers. He said: Tonight would be perfect if we could win this one too. 
That was true.

But still I say the man outside the ballroom summed it up best for me.

Honey I cried.

Not for Prop. 8.

But for Barack Obama.

Related Articles:

Prop. 8 Could Invalidate This 'Marriage'

Ours Is a Love Story -- The Case Against Banning Gay Marriage

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