T Plus 5 Days and Counting

I’m writing this on Sunday night after the Presidential election. I hope everyone knows this, but Barack Obama defeated John McCain last Thursday. The popular vote was 65,431,955 (53%) for Obama and 57,434,084 (46%) for McCain. In the electoral map, Obama won 364 electoral votes vs. 173 for McCain (different news organizations have different numbers, but they are close enough for my doing). As a sidebar I looked at some of the web pages of the independent candidates I listed on my page. I wasn’t able to find much information on how many votes they received, and I have to say that as a group they are not gracious losers. I didn’t see any of them offer their support or prayers to the new president; none of them took a page from Senator McCain’s gracious and benevolent remarks.

In any case it’s still hard to believe that the campaign really is over. With all the buildup, all the twists and turns, it didn’t take long on Tuesday night to have a winner. By the time our polls closed at 8PM local time the networks knew and shortly after 8 the race was over. We had some friends and family over and when Senator Obama was announced we all looked at each other in disbelief.

Since then there has been an outpouring and it’s moved me to tears several times. I grew up in Virginia and thought I was aware of racial politics and beliefs but I was not prepared for the welling of emotion over the election of an African American man for President. I guess I was one of the few people of my generation who did believe I’d see an African American President in my lifetime (mostly at this point I’m still getting my head wrapped around the fact that Obama is younger than me). On the other hand “knowing I’ll see it happen someday” is very different from actually experiencing it. I’ll never forget the faces in the crowds in Grant Park in Chicago where thousands gathered. This time just feels so . . . hopeful.

I say this against backdrop of the horrible racial politics that the other side attempted. I wrote about this a few days ago, how blogs all over the country were trying to portray Obama as an outsider with a “secret agenda” who is “not one of us” and “secretly wants to destroy America.” These words make his victory all the sweeter in that this type of ignorance didn’t work.

The dark spot of the election for me here in California was the passage of Proposition 8. Last May the California Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for California to deny marriage to same sex couples; almost immediately groups in and out of the state began this proposition to change the state constitution to define marriage as only for heterosexual couples. It passed by a thin margin. I’m not sure where it goes from here, but it does strike me as unfair that the state constitution can be changed by a simple majority on a proposition. By contrast, the U.S. Constitution can be amended only after a two step process: a resolution is passed by 2/3 majority of the House and Senate, and is ratified by the state legislatures of 3/4 of the states.

The supporters of Prop 8 disagree with me on this reasoning but I do draw a line from this to the debate about interracial marriage that took place last century. Until 1967 (in the case of Loving vs. Virginia) it was against the law in several states for people of different races to marry. The Supreme Court argued here that there was no constitutional right to define marriage as between people of the same race.

The landmark Supreme Court case in the civil rights era is Brown vs. Board of Education, 1954. What is not well known is that it overturned a previous Supreme Court case, Plessy vs. Ferguson, 1896. In the Plessy case the Court ruled 8-1 that it was permissible to allow “separate but equal” facilities. The Brown case, 58 years later, argued that separate is inherently unequal and there can be no double standard.

That’s the issue I have with those who hold that our gay brothers and sisters still have domestic partnerships. The argument is that they have this provision and marriage can still be reserved to a man and a woman. Only it can’t. Justice Warren in 1954 was right: separate is simply not equal.

So let’s take a moment to celebrate Barack’s victory, but then remember that we still have work to do.