On November 4, 2008 I sat in a pub in Durham, U.K. with a bunch of other U.S. students watching the election results come in with anticipation. However, unlike most of those other students, my attention wasn’t really focused on whether Obama would be elected or not. I kept waiting to hear about the results from the three states that had ballot measures banning same-sex marriage. I was particularly anxious about my home state of California. Up until just a couple weeks before the election I had been sure that the ban would be shot down. It’s California, one of the most liberal states in the country. Yet as I sat in that pub, refreshing a website with election data every 30 seconds, I was really worried. The Yes on 8 Campaign had seemed to be so much more successful than I had thought it would be.
With the time difference (California is 8 hours behind the U.K.) I stayed up extremely late, not wanting to miss the results. I don’t remember exactly what time the results on California’s Prop 8 were officially announced. It might have even been the next day. What I do remember is that when I saw that it had passed, my heart sank.
It wasn’t long before people in California started protesting, and then that protest became nationwide. Not long after that the NOH8 campaign was started, specifically in response to the passing of the ban on same-sex marriage in California. On the one hand it was heartening to see such a reaction. On the other, I was left wondering where such an outpouring of support was before the elections had even happened. And I realized that I wasn’t the only one who had thought California would never pass the ban. We were surprised, shocked and now we were ready for action.
Fast forward to today and the Pewstates.org's Marriage Map and four more states have upcoming elections in which a ban on gay marriage will be on the ballot. What initially struck me about it is the fact that the majority of states actually have a ban in place. Also, it’s interesting that after the passage of DOMA, states still feel the need to pass an explicit ban. It’s not as if without the ban, same-sex marriage is legal. Same-sex couples weren’t getting married in the U.S. prior to these marriage bans.
In countries where same-sex marriage is legal, it’s only legal because of a change in the law or because of the ruling in a court case. Something had to change to make same-sex marriage recognized by the state. It suggests to me that a lot of these bans are based on fear, specifically a fear that if a same-sex couple wanted to get married in a state without a ban, it might be possible for them to find a way to do so.
Also, I think it’s amazing how different states seem to be in completely different places. Seven states are trailblazing by passing laws which explicitly make same-sex marriage legal, and 41 other states are firmly sticking to the old nuclear family model. It’s as though different parts of the country have different ideas of where best to look for guidance. Seven states seem to be looking to the future, embracing change. The other 41 seem to be nostalgically looking into the past, trying to force U.S. culture and society to stop, and turn back the clocks.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it is part of the beauty of the U.S. that each region is not overshadowed by another, but at the same time same-sex marriage is a matter of human rights. For my mind, regional differences in morals and cultural norms should not overshadow human rights.