Thursday, October 23, 2008
(I have chosen to break from my Middle East writings this week and write about prop. 8. This is an initiative that is on the California ballot this November)
Whenever I go home to Santa Barbara for the weekend, I walk down the street to my childhood barbershop for a haircut and a chat. From local old-timers to necktied businessmen, someone is always talking about sports, politics, or a current event that nobody seems to care about. So I decided to charge things up a bit and provocatively declare that I am going to vote no on Proposition 8. I told my local barbershop that I support gay people and their right to get married.
I admit I enjoyed the shock of my older, crew-cut audience, who would be likely targets for a Viagra commercial. The balding yet buff chap in the chair next to me asked with a surprised look, “What do you care? You’re a strong young man; what do you care about the queers?”
Perhaps it’s the fact that there are homosexuals in my family. I have grown up knowing them as people and thus understand that sexual preference has nothing to do with being a good person. I suppose I’ve always felt slightly embarrassed that gay people would have to take time out of their lives to fight for this issue, which, to me, seems like a basic human right.
This is my stance on the issue. And clearly the homophobia in this barbershop was running high, because the girly-men jokes kept coming. I reversed the question, trying to figure out where these guys were coming from: “What do you care? What burden would you bear if gay people continue to get married? Plus, it’s not like preventing them from getting married would stop them from being gay.”
According to my highly nonscientific barbershop field survey, most were either just generally against it or felt that there was some religious infraction associated with homosexuality. “Fine,” I said trying to hide my grin, “don’t marry a dude.” They were not amused.
I don’t know what then came over me, but I decided that it was time to go for the gusto. I tapped my wisdom as a political science student.
“Even if you don’t like gay marriage,” I lectured, “you should vote no on Proposition 8 because you’re a proud American.” I figured that a nationalist spin might speak more strongly to these old-timers.
“Proposition 8 would put a constitutional ban on gay marriage in the state of California—otherwise known as a modern-day Jim Crow. To amend the U.S. Constitution, there needs to be a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress, so, as our founding fathers wisely agreed, amendments would not be easy. But the California State Constitution is different. It requires only a simple majority by way of a voter referendum. All it takes,” I said, "is 50 plus one to put discrimination into our state’s Constitution.”
It was then that I noticed a balding man (whom the barber was clearly flattering by even seating him) taking a swig of whiskey from his personally engraved flask. It was evident that my monologue had managed to kill the debate. It was over. But on the car ride home, I wondered: Do these men truly believe that gay marriage is wrong, or have they simply been socialized to be homophobic? I may never know.
But the rest of us Californians have a choice to make. As students who champion an equality that has been taught to us by nothing less than the American dream, I ask you to consider the discrimination imbedded in Proposition 8. What will it say about us as Californians—often national leaders in tolerance and moral sophistication—if we allow discrimination to enter our State Constitution? As a straight college student, I feel that Proposition 8 isn’t only about gay rights, it’s a referendum on who we are as Californians.
Vote “No" on Proposition 8.
Originally published in The Santa Barbara Independent