Marla R. Stevens

Open Thank You Note to Leonard Pitts

Filed By Marla R. Stevens | November 16, 2008 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: African-American, Leonard Pitts, marriage amendment, Obama campaign

I wept when I read Leonard Pitts' column about black anti-marriage-equality voters.

As a white woman -- and a white woman with hundreds of beloved black family members -- the risk of being accused of racism when I point out the fact that black religious traditionalist bigots who were new or rare voters brought to the polls this time by the otherwise delicious Obama candidacy put Yes on 8 over the top.

The Obama campaign knew in advance that that would be the effect and that they would win without those voters, yet openly pandered to their bigotry again and again in the campaign. And they did nothing to help their new young voters, who stood with us, learn how to vote a ballot all the way through instead of just stopping at the elected offices. This leaves me with huge, conflicting feelings screaming inside to be heard but, with family and near-family African-American friends, too often left festering like an untreated leprous elephant in the living room.

I voted for Obama because of many things, not the least of which was that it would bring my African-American loved ones that Velveteen Rabbit sense of being finally real that we've all seen on so many faces this last week -- and I would do it again, pleased on the one hand that I can, after eight long horrid years, finally legitimately use the term, "President-Elect".

But that doesn't make his election less bittersweet for me.

My wife and I got a call from our attorney the day after the election telling us that we should not return to our Florida home -- not even stretch a toe across the state line -- that, legally, it would be too dangerous for us in the wake of the Florida amendment's being voted into law. If we had to go to court to challenge any problem with our various domestic-partner-based insurance policies or the many couples documents we have cobbled together in a poor result attempt to mimic the protections our civil marriage ought to provide, there could easily be no relationship recognized by Florida law on which to rule in our favor, no matter how just our cause otherwise.

We're sending in straight people to pack us up and move us out and have no idea how long it will be until we can return if we even live that long. The discussion is now way past the rhetorical for us, not to mention the manatees to whom we were used to lovingly feeding their favorite Romaine lettuce treat from the end of our dock that jutted into the languid Banana River off our favorite Space Coast island from which we could literally not just see, but feel the rockets fire off into the ever-intriguing sky, our spirits hurtling along with them, imagining life in strange and wondrous places out among the stars.

It's been a long time since I've felt this much an "unacceptable other" and the closest thing I have to an analogy about the strange juxtaposition of joy and grief on election night is the surreal long night when a dear one collapsed and died suddenly one New Year's Eve in the midst of festivities that just went on in spite of it. To say that President-Elect Obama's acceptance speech promises of a nation where everyone matters rang hollow is a huge understatement.

My wife and I kept punching in CNN's referendum results page long into the dawn while listening to pundits saying that the election was as clear an indicator as could be that it was time to put the N-word away -- that it no longer applied -- thinking, "Whoa, there, big fella, maybe you're speaking too soon because, while its relevance to one people just took a gloriously giant nosedive, it may just have been a sideways one, visiting itself with a big, unwelcome thunk instead right over here."

We were struck that even the lesbian mom on CNN clammed up which, when added to the pre-election stories of anti-gay violence committed by ballot measure proponents, drove home how, with precious few exceptions, we're fighting a newly-made-more-difficult fight alone and under threat -- that we can depend on pretty much ourselves alone to secure the changes we need to be considered fully, equally human in American under the law, much less in the broader social world.

So we thank Mr. Pitts for putting into words one of the four main sources of that marriage amendment pain in a way that may speak to it to those who need most to hear it better than we can. It helps us feel just a bit less alone.


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Hi Marla,

I apologize in advance if my question is naive, but I'm guessing if I'm asking others may be wondering too:

You mention that your attorney is advising you not to even cross state lines in Florida, and that you're sending in others to pick up your belongings to move you out of your home. I guess I don't understand the specifics of the Florida laws to know why? My- perhaps naive- understanding of the law is that it affects specifically marriage legality; how would it affect your state citizenship, legal residency or home ownership?

Can you explain why your attorney fears for you to even cross the state line, what the specific danger is; and why it's safer to send in people not even tied to your home, rather than just whichever of you or your partner may be signed on as the homeowner? I think it would be helpful for those outside of your situation to really understand how the ban is affecting people!

Thank you, and best of luck to you in the process!!

While I'll let Marla answer the specifics of the question, I thought I'd pop in to point out that Marla and Phyllis have two homes. One in Florida and another in a different state.

"...black religious traditionalist bigots who were new or rare voters brought to the polls this time by the otherwise delicious Obama candidacy put Yes on 8 over the top."

This is a divisive claim being pushed by Fox News, and it isn't really accurate. Nate Silver explains in detail, but the gist is that, yes, if you removed all the new voters who voted yes on 8, then it would have failed. But if you removed ALL the new voters, it would have passed even more resoundingly!!

The new voters as a group helped our cause greatly, and we can't lay this defeat at the doors of black (or Latino) voters. We can quite convincingly lay it at the doors of old voters, on the other hand.

Of course, homophobia in the black church is a huge problem that needs fixing, but the Mormons and white Evangelicals are still the biggest and the most egregious offenders.

On another note, I am terribly sorry to hear about how the Florida Amendment is affecting you, and I wish you the best of luck in handling it.

Will, I think you miss the point. Entirely. We weren’t defeated by new, or young, or African American, or independent, or Latino or any other flavor of voters.

We went down in flames because of the bigot vote and in spite of the fact that we outspent Yes on 8 and led in the polls by 7 or 8 points. Obama's vacuous rock star popularity and unending, superstition driven, bigoted opposition to same sex marriage mobilized and galvanized the bigot vote from every cohort of voters. He tirelessly put his seal of approval on the bigotry of independents, liberals, conservatives, young and old, Euroamericans and people from minority communities and Democrats and Republicans. He bellowed "god's in the mix" so often that anyone who wanted to vote their bigotry knew they had “god” and Obama covering their asses.

Our defeat is also the legacy of most of Obama's uncritical supporters who declined to denounce his bigotry, ignoring what everyone saw coming until it was too late.