(AP Photo/Stephen Chernin)
Gay marriage proponents outside New York City Hall.
All across the country today in many major cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta and New York City, same sex marriage advocates and activists gathered in massive numbers to protest the passage of California’s odious Proposition 8, the question on the ballot that sought to ban gay marriage in that state. It was not a fatal blow to the gay rights movement but certainly a crippling one that was funded by church groups, especially the Mormon Church.
The gatherings were civil as a whole and advocates across the country were cautioning that protest without civility makes discourse impossible. Proponents of not only gay marriage but the civil means to that end only need to look back 39½ years to the Stonewall Inn riots of late June-early July 1969.
The Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village was the only gay bar in the entire city that allowed dancing. It was a Mafia-owned establishment that catered to gay men, hustlers, drag queens, the occasional lesbian couple and teenaged runaways. There was no running water, the toilets overflowed, the liquor was watered down and overpriced and the only good thing about it is that it paid off the corrupt NYPD well-enough to keep the raids to a minimum. The Stonewall Inn’s ownership plainly exploited the gay population for the sake of profit just as the police exploited them for professional gain and politicians for political gain.
The New York City Police Department arrived at the Inn at around 1:30 in the morning of Saturday June 28, 1969 and raided the joint. It was supposed to be a normal raid (perhaps the management skipped a payment to the police) and the usual suspects were rounded up, drag queens inspected by female officers. Those who weren’t judged guilty of committing the crime of being gay were thrown out.
But on this night, they didn’t quickly disperse but quietly hung around outside awaiting the outcome. A lesbian patron led out by the police was beaten when she fought back and that was the moment the crowd turned ugly. It was also the very flashpoint that gave birth to the gay rights movement in the United States. Lucian Truscott wrote on July 3rd,
Sheridan Square this weekend looked like something from a William Burroughs novel as the sudden specter of “gay power” erected its brazen head and spat out a fairy tale the likes of which the area has never seen.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
A pro gay rights protest sign at Chicago’s Federal Plaza.
Until four o’clock in the morning, Christopher Street and Sheridan Square in general indeed took on a Theater of the Absurd ambience as gay men formed kick lines to satirize the machismo of the police. When the police responded with billy clubs, the fags and drag queens did something extraordinary: They fought back. Their response was so furious that the NYPD had to retreat back into the very building that they had just raided. The protestors found a nearby construction site and came back with bricks.
It ought to be noted that while the gay men were essentially unarmed, they drove back into the shadows the NYPD’s tactical squad (TPF). After decades of brutal oppression in the land of the free, home of the brave, the gay population of Greenwich Village had had enough and exploded with pent-up rage. Word of the series of riots spread like wildfire through the national gay community.
The desperate tactics of those actually on the scene embarrassed the older gay community that had previously formed an organization named the Mattachine Society. In all fairness to this organization, it had succeeded in convincing liberal Republican Mayor John Lindsay to end the entrapment raids. Yet the Mattachine Society believed that acceptance of the gay community had to come slowly and gradually through peaceful protest and civility.
Not unlike the people civilly protesting Proposition Eight today.
Abolitionists in the 1850’s also felt the same way with slavery and they marginalized wild men like John Brown, who had to capture a federal armory in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia and lose two of his sons before his capture to put violent change back on the table. That was in 1859. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation by New Year's Day 1863.
If the Mattachine Society had its way, they would’ve continued counseling patience and civility from the younger gay community and nothing would’ve changed. There would’ve been no gay rights movement in the late 60’s and early 70’s and we wouldn’t have had gay marriage in three states for even as briefly we did. Sometimes blood and iron, as John Brown believed, saves the day.
Proposition 8, funded by Mormons, Focus on the Family and even Blackwater Worldwide, was dedicated to the proposition that not all men and women are created equal, that homosexuality is an immoral lifestyle choice and that straight people have the right to tell gays and bisexuals whom they cannot marry.
The rest of you can wait.
Much has been made of the fact that 70% of California-based African Americans who voted for Barack Obama wound up voting for Prop 8. The majority of his Hispanic voters, also, voted for 8. Barack Obama must assume a large measure of the blame for this. Obama had ridden a crest of excitement, hope and enthusiasm that has not been enjoyed by any Democrat since John F. Kennedy’s candidacy in 1960 and he wasted the opportunity to help bring about his much-ballyhooed change by opposing gay marriage.
A commenter on the above linked article succinctly put it:
Of all the communities in the US, one would think that African Americans would not want to discriminate against another community. How wrong is that assumption!, It seems suffering over two hundred years of oppression does not teach one tolerance and compassion. It is a bitter and sad day for California's gay and lesbian community. It is also hard to grasp that we voted in our first African American president while carving permanent, legislative discrimination and bigotry into our state constitution.
Back when she was still in the mix, Hillary Clinton united with Barack Obama and John McCain in one thing: Opposition to gay marriage. Like her husband and Obama, Clinton had been bashed as an arch liberal yet bigotry against same sex marriage was virtually the only issue that united the three presidential candidates.
Those who ban and would seek to ban same sex marriage wearisomely keep trotting out the old argument that children need to be protected as if homosexuality is some communicable disease that requires only exposure to it. They also say they need to defend marriage by defining it as an institution that ought to be between a man and a woman. Otherwise, their own marriages are threatened.
If two men or two women marry in Provincetown or San Francisco, far away from you, and you let it affect your marriage, then you’re at fault. Seeing to the strength and sanctity of your legal union with your spouse is your responsibility. Yet these intellectually bankrupt arguments seem to be their actual reasons for bypassing the California state legislature and shoehorning Proposition 8 onto the state ballot. And it worked with an ad campaign that blew over $70,000,000.
Yet even gay right advocates say to this day that without civility, discourse is impossible.
History says otherwise. The patrons of the Stonewall Inn say otherwise. John Brown says otherwise. Those who have practiced civility with those who are hardly civil cannot claim any victory.
Since gay marriage has been banned in California, only 4% of our states now legally allow gay marriage with a handful of others allowing civil unions. On the other hand, 76% of our nation carries the death penalty with more states like Massachusetts trying to sign on for it every day.
In other words, America is a nation that’s much more prone to embrace death than love and the institution of marriage. And that is perhaps the most tragically sad commentary on a nation that was founded on the principles of liberty, equality and the right to the pursuit of happiness.