Just four years ago, on election day, I stood on the corner outside a polling place in Northern California holding a "No on 8 sign."
Although we were standing the required number of feet away from where voting was happening, the person manning the polling place felt threatened by our gay presence and was going to call the police on us. It was the first time I thought I was going to be arrested for my marriage equality activism.
In that area most voters were anti-gay. One grey-haired old lady drove by and rolled down her window to make sure we knew she voted "yes on 8," and she was one of the kind ones.
I remember watching the election results later that night in a hotel in downtown San Francisco. The early numbers showed "No on 8" leading, and in between news reports, while votes from the various precincts were being tallied, various speakers from the "No on 8 Campaign" took to the stage and shared their stories about why marriage equality mattered to them.
Then we learned that Barack Obama was elected our 44th President, and all at once the room filled with joyous applause! The energy was invigorating, and tears fell from many eyes as we listened to our President-elect, who had just broken the racial barrier, speak about the new American Dream that he would usher in during his presidency, which included "LGBT Americans," or maybe he said "gay and lesbian Americans." I don't remember his words exactly, but it was the first time a U.S. President acknowledged us as part of the American family.
Within moments of our rejoicing the acknowledgement by our new president-elect however, an air of palpable sadness filled the room. More precincts had been tallied and the percentage of "No on 8" votes was now less than the" Yes on 8 votes" which now was ahead by four percent.
Outside the hotel people celebrated in the streets, while inside the "No on 8 Campaign" headquarters people began weeping. How could this be? We wondered. Only yesterday same-sex couples were joyfully marrying. Hadn't our fellow Californians seen the love in our eyes? Hadn't they finally seen our humanity? How could so many people want to deny us our happiness? How could a small percentage of voters take away our rights? It was unfathomable.
I went upstairs to the hotel room of my friends Jeff and Dave, which was the makeshift Marriage Equality USA (www.marriageequality.org) headquarters, and we continued to watch election results, and the televised celebrations of Obama's election. We watched until midnight, hoping something would change on the Prop 8 front. It didn't.
I called in sick to work the next day. I couldn't bring myself to face anyone yet, it was just too painful. I felt betrayed by humanity, and pissed off at the Prop 8 campaign for being so homophobic, and failing to use basic psychology in their commercials. You can read my critique of the Prop 8 campaign in my book Love Warriors along with my reasoning on why the "Yes on 8" campaign was ultimately more effective in using psychology in their ads.
Flash forward to pre-election 2012:
Since Prop 8 passed, marriage equality has been made legal in five states and the U.S. capitol, with three more states are voting for marriage equality, and one state fighting against a constitutional ban. For those unable to travel to those states, Marriage Equality USA had launched a call from home campaign that allowed people to support marriage equality efforts by using their cell phones to phone bank from home.
Two days before the election, I was on the phone with Washington voters asking them to vote to approve Referendum 74. In the past I'd phone banked to stop California's Knight Initiative in 2000, and of course, Prop 8 in 2008. I'd also walked door to door in opposition to Measure 36 in Oregon in 2005, phone banked to stop Amendment 2 in 2006 in Texas, and Question 1 in Maine in 2009.
Every time before, the majority of people I spoke to were not in favor of marriage equality. So I was understandably apprehensive as I started making those calls to Washington. However, half an hour into the process, I realized I was tallying more supporters of marriage equality than opponents, and they were friendly! It was the first moment in my entire marriage equality activism history that I felt marriage had a real chance to win at the ballot.
Back in 2000, myself and a handful of other activists who had volunteered for the "No on Knight" campaign, and had felt discouraged by the internalized homophobia and lack of interest in gaining marriage equality we'd encountered, met with Evan Wolfson, who had just left Lambda Legal to start Freedom to Marry.
We discussed winning marriage equality in the U.S., and especially in California. We debated which states could be won with court battles, which ones with votes from the legislature, and the almost impossible to win voter initiatives. Some of us had worked with the Henning brothers to get a pro-marriage equality bill on the ticket in 2000, and though many people thought we were crazy, we wanted to get the ball rolling for marriage equality.
In the end, it seems that we've had to do our work in all three arenas. And, for the most part, marriage equality succeeds where there is approval by the masses, which shows that the real key to winning equality is winning the hearts and minds of our fellow Americans. So there's still work to do! We still have 40 more states whose hearts we must win.
I applaud everyone who contributed to the campaigns in Maine, Maryland, Washington and Minnesota. I also applaud all those people who opened their hearts and minds to the idea marriage equality.
On November 21, we'll know if the U.S. Supreme Court is going to hear the Prop 8 case. [Editor's note: the date has since been moved to Nov. 30] If they don't, then the lower court ruling, which found Prop 8 unconstitutional, will stand, making California would the 10th state to recognize same-sex marriage.
If you live in a state with a gay marriage ban, the way to reverse that ban is either to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule all mini-DOMAs and "gay marriage amendments" unconstitutional, or by opening hearts and minds and passing a voter initiative repealing the ban and enacting same-sex marriage.
The best way to do that is by creating an educational campaign in your community. Check out my book Love Warriors: The Rise of the Marriage Equality Movement and Why It Will Prevail for ideas on how to deepen your marriage equality activism. Even if you live in a red state, there are things you can do in your community to make a difference. For an example, check out the town of Eureka Springs in Lovely County Arkansas. Though deep within the bible belt, there they are creating ripples of hope and equality!
As Dr. King would say, agitating for equality is a deeply patriotic act showing how much you love Democracy and America. With liberty and justice for all!