Dana Rudolph

Prop 8: A Spoonful of Sugar

Filed By Dana Rudolph | June 30, 2009 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Marriage Equality, Media, The Movement
Tags: civil rights, julie andrews, Mary Poppins, Prop. 8, suffrage, women's suffrage


riginally published in Bay Windows, May 28, 2009. I thought it was worth reposting here because of the pending Prop 8 case that will go before a district court this Thursday.)

We've been on a Disney movie kick around our house, spurred by a recent visit to the Magic Kingdom. As fate would have it, the day the Prop 8 decision was announced, we had chosen to watch Mary Poppins. I was looking forward to some Julie Andrews, but didn't expect to be discussing civil rights in the process.

Those of you familiar with the film will recall that Mary Poppins' employer, Mrs. Banks, makes her first entrance after participating in a suffrage rally. She explains that one of her fellow protesters was taken away "clapped in irons."

Our son was puzzled by this, as he only understands such punishments to be for "bad guys." We explained that people sometimes do things to draw attention to their cause and change matters for the better.

As I write this, police have arrested over 100 protesters in San Francisco, and SFGate.com says officers were "moving methodically from person to person to first clap plastic ties on their wrists and lead them away to a police van."

We've moved from iron to plastic, but much remains the same.

Trying to explain women's suffrage to our son makes me wonder how LGBT parents in California are explaining the current happenings to their children. Same-sex couples in California are raising more than 70,000 children, according to UCLA's Williams Institute. How will they tell their kids that it is possible for citizens to vote away the civil rights of another group of citizens? More to the point, how will they do so and yet instill a belief in American democracy?

Even more perplexing for children will be the decision to uphold the marriages of same-sex couples performed between May and November of 2008. I am glad for the couples whose marriages remain legal, but I wonder: How will Johnny's moms explain to him that Charlie's dads down the street are married because they were smart enough to seize a window of opportunity, but that Johnny's own moms are not because they were waiting for a reservation at the wedding location of their dreams, or they were too busy caring for an ailing relative last year, or they just didn't believe the voters would take away this right?

Here's another puzzler: LGBT parents and allies will want to explain to their children that the lack of married parents is no reflection on the children's self worth. It's a message LGBT parents everywhere have long tried to express, before we ever had the right to marry in any location. As we tell our children this, however, are we not also conveying that marriage is not strictly necessary for a happy and committed family, even if it does bring certain rights and benefits that we would like?

Our children's view of marriage as the fundamental institution of society will thus be shaken, Disney movies of Cinderella notwithstanding. By not letting same-sex couples into the institution of marriage, the right wing has therefore done more to undermine it than any loving same-sex couple.

Maybe marriage isn't necessary in the long term, and we should open up benefits and responsibilities to couples in various types of relationships (e.g., two straight single moms or two elderly sisters who rely on each other for assistance), as some have suggested. That remains an open possibility.

For the moment, however, marriage is still the lingua franca of committed adult relationships. It brings many hidden benefits, above and beyond civil unions and domestic partnerships. As civil union commissions in New Jersey and Vermont have shown, separate is not really equal. Many children of same-sex parents do struggle to maintain confidence in the face of harassment about their families.

Mary Poppins, however, gives me hope, not only because Julie Andrews always makes me smile, but also because it reminds me how far we've come in the overall struggle for human equality. I do believe in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s bendable arc of the universe. For every Plessy v. Ferguson there will be a Brown v. Board of Education. Already, two same-sex couples have filed a lawsuit in a U.S. District Court arguing that Prop 8 violates the U.S. constitutional guarantee of equal protection and due process. The Associated Press reports that one of the lawyers in the case believes it could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," perhaps the most well known song from Mary Poppins, contains the lyric, "One night I said it to me girl/And now me girl's my wife!" One might hope the word's magical powers were true. We could utter it and find ourselves in a land where any two people could marry.

Alas, it's going to take a lot of work. The film's song, "Sister Suffragette" is really more appropriate: "No more the meek and mild subservients we!/We're fighting for our rights, militantly!/Never you fear!/So, cast off the shackles of yesterday!/Shoulder to shoulder into the fray!/Our daughters' daughters will adore us/And they'll sing in grateful chorus/'Well done! Well done!'"

That sense of hope, of leaving a positive legacy for our children and grandchildren, is the spoonful of sugar that will make the hard work of equality go down.

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"Take heart, for Mrs Pankhurst has been clapped in irons again."

Oh yes, I remember.

Emmeline Pankhurst was the leader of the Suffragette Movement in the UK.

As a movement, we could learn a lot from her...