On Tuesday, May 26, in a 6-1 ruling, Californias Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage. In response to this ruling and the continued discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people across the country, activists have called for a National March for Equality in Washington, D.C. the weekend of October 10-11 to demand full, equal rights for all LGBT people.
Just hours after the verdict on Prop 8 was released, thousands took to the streets in protest across the country, in an echo of the hundreds of thousands who demonstrated on November 15 after the initial passage of this reactionary law. According to DayofDecision.com, there were events organized in over 115 cities, including rallies of 15,000 in Los Angeles, 5,000 in San Francisco, 3,000 in San Diego, and over 1,000 in Seattle. Another 4,000 marched in Fresno on Saturday, including hundreds who marched 14.5 miles in an effort to reach people in more socially conservative areas.
The ruling on Prop 8 in California is a major slap in the face to equal rights, even though the court did agree to recognize the 18,000 same-sex marriages performed in California prior to the passage of Prop 8 in November 2008.
Yet while the California decision is a huge setback, recent months have witnessed a number of victories for the gay rights movement. New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and Iowa have all legalized same-sex marriage, bringing the total number of states that have legalized marriage equality to six.
In addition the movement is making a huge dent in the battle for hearts and minds. 44 percent of Americans now say same-sex marriage should be legal (up from just 21 percent in November 2004). This includes 58 percent of those ages 18-34 (CNN, 5/4/09). There is a widespread feeling of confidence among many LGBT people and activists that the tide may be finally turning, despite the California ruling although a major struggle lies ahead.
As Robin Tyler, one of the plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 suit, said, No civil rights movement has ever lost. Never. We will win. Its not an if its a when. Only we are going to have to fight like hell. Tyler, who was married while same-sex marriage was legal in California, founded the website DayofDecision.com, which was responsible for the protests Tuesday evening.
Activists are now gearing up to put an initiative to overturn Prop 8 on the California ballot in 2010. There is also a major lawsuit being filed in the federal court system, arguing that Californias ban on gay marriage violates the constitutional right to due process and equal protection under the law. Yet many major LGBT rights organizations oppose this strategy, saying it is too soon to aim for a challenge at the national Supreme Court level given the current balance on the court.
We can’t rely on corporate politicians or the courts to defend our rights, much less expand them. Rather than waiting for a supposedly more favorable balance on the court, now is the time to step up the movement in the streets, which can change the relationship of forces in society and build public support for LGBT rights.
Now is the perfect time to seize on the momentum generated by recent victories and the outrage at the passage of Proposition 8 in California (and the state supreme courts refusal to reverse it) to go all out in organizing the national demonstration for equal rights for all LGBT people on October 10-11. Such a demonstration will help link up all the many efforts in different states and localities to push for marriage equality and broader LGBT rights.
Crucially, the mobilization will demand that the Obama administration repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, as well as demanding marriage equality at a national level. While Obama promised to repeal DOMA during his campaign, his administration has yet to make any moves in this direction.
Unfortunately, leading Democratic politicians have shown again and again that rather than taking a principled stand, they are willing to sell out the interests LGBT people out for their narrow electoral gains. In order to build a powerful social movement, it should not concern itself with the supposed needs of friendly Democratic politicians, but rather start from the standpoint of the need of LGBT people for equal rights NOW.
Expressing the growing frustration and anger of some in the LGBT community at the timidity of Democratic politicians on this issue, Tyler said, If the National Democratic party does not, after 35 years of promises to our community, make sure we have full equal rights in this country, the gay divorce you are going to see is the gay communities divorce from the Democratic party. We are a civil rights movement. Its time we acted like one.
The national march this fall will allow LGBT rights activists to boldly campaign in their communities, schools, and unions to mobilize and build support. It will place the issue in the national spotlight and highlight the broad support for equal rights for all that exists, giving confidence to the millions who support marriage equality that they are part of a broader movement.
As the National March for Equality organizers put it in their call, As members of every race, class, faith, and community, we see the struggle for LGBT equality as part of a larger movement for peace and social justice. The call for a national demonstration on October 10-11 should be enthusiastically supported by all progressive organizations, linked to the struggle against all forms of oppression and for equality and real justice for all.
As socialists, dedicated to building a world free of exploitation, we wholeheartedly support the call for a national demonstration for equal rights for LGBT people in Washington on October 10-11. We link the struggle for equal rights for LGBT people to the need to replace this rotten capitalist system, which gives rise not only to economic crises and wars, but also feeds off of sexism, racism, and homophobia.
Ultimately, it is only through mobilizing a powerful mass movement that we can transform society. As the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass once said, Without struggle, there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never has and it never will.