The wind at our backs, the struggle ahead

AMany wonderful things happened on Tuesday. But in California, one awful thing happened: Proposition 8, which enshrines bigotry in the state constitution, passed. Specifically, prop 8 bans gay and lesbian marriage.

You wouldn’t have known it if you were walking through the Castro on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Thousands of people were on the streets in the world’s largest gay community. They knew that prop 8 was leading, but people were exhilarated, even ecstatic, about Obama’s victory.

I kept walking, wanting to see how San Francisco’s neighborhoods were reacting; I was tired but I wanted to see all of it.

I stopped at the home of my friends Viru and Beth; it hit us that if a man named Barack Hussein Obama could become president, so could my boy, Liko Wai-Kaniela Smith-Doo, or their little girl, Anna-Priya Saiki-Gupte. America is now officially a multiracial country. It means a lot to us. This is personal, not political.

Back on the street strangers shook my hand and said, “Congratulations.” At one point I was walking down Market St. and a black man walked past me chanting, “We got a black man as president

One member of the white gay couple walking in front of me shouted back, “Hell yeah, we got a black man as president!” The two men, one black and one gay, high-fived each other, and laughed.

Their voices sounded equally joyous; that moment encapsulated the best of the night for me. All of us saw the election as a triumph for our city, for San Francisco values, for progressive urban values: Cosmopolitanism, tolerance, thoughtfulness, fairness.

It’s three days later. I’m writing this in a crowded Castro café, and people all around me, most of them gay and lesbian, are still talking about Tuesday, recalling the thrill and the feelings of unity. (The barista is greeting costumers with, “Happy Obama!” which keeps getting a delighted little laugh.)

So Prop 8 won, but life goes on, and, for the first time in a very long time, we can feel the wind at our backs. The biggest question people in my social circle are asking is, what will happen to the 18,000 gay and lesbian couples, including our friends, who have been married?

For now, it appears, their marriage vows will be respected. California Attorney General Jerry Brown has stated in court papers and affirmed in the media that those marriages should remain valid in the wake of prop 8’s passage.

“I believe that marriages that have been entered into subsequent to the May 15 Supreme Court opinion will be recognized by the California Supreme Court,” Brown told the Chronicle. He noted that prop 8 is silent about retroactivity, and said, ‘I would think the court, in looking at the underlying equities, would most probably conclude that upholding the marriages performed in that interval before the election would be a just result.”

In time prop 8 will be overturned. America is urbanizing. It’s becoming steadily more educated. These are progressive developments, but they create contradictions, especially widening inequality.

Right after I watched the white gay man and the black (almost certainly straight) man celebrate together, I walked past someone sleeping on the sidewalk and someone else rummaging through a garbage can. Both homeless people were white; today in America, the lost and dispossessed can come in any color. They seemed oblivious to the election and they were utterly isolated from the people and city around them.

Perhaps I was just tired, but I ended the evening feeling sad, an emotion that seemed to arise from the certain knowledge, visceral and intellectual, that we never stop struggling. But at least now, for the moment, many of us can struggle together.

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