I frankly didn't want to. I hated what Germans had let happen in the Holocaust. How 11 million innocents had been murdered by the Nazis for being different, for being labeled "inferior." How Hitler had tried to eliminate the very existence of the Jewish people (They murdered over 6 million Jewish men, women and children.) How the Nazis tried to also kill off as many Gays, Romas (gypsies), Disabled, Jehovah's Witnesses, and pretty much anyone else they didn't like or who dared to disagree with them. How my own family barely survived to have me.
So I didn't want to go to Germany, never mind that most of the people I knew I'd see there hadn't even been born in 1945, when the nightmare of WWII and the Holocaust ended. They couldn't have been Nazis. They couldn't have been the ones standing by and watching their neighbors being taken away to death camps.
But on my trip to Kassel, I only had eyes for the older people. Anyone that looked over 65 was suspect. Had they been a Nazi? Had they worked at Buchenwald, or Auschwitz? Had they pushed kids - kids! - into the gas chambers?
In my 30s, I spent two years of my life documenting and cataloging testimonies of Holocaust Survivors at The Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. Those were incredibly hard years for me, sort of like emotional peace corps work, listening to tales of such horror. And yet many of the Survivors had some faith in humanity, some abiding sense of hope that had not only gotten them through alive, but had enabled them to thrive, and succeed, in their lives afterwards.
So many words ring in my ears. So many real life stories of heroism, of bravery, of people risking their own lives to save others. And real life stories of betrayal, death, and despair.
- "In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
- And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
- And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
- Martin Niemoeller
- And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up."
This morning, AP announced that Prop 8, the amendment to the California Constitution that would eliminate the right of same-gender couples to marry, has passed.
While Yes on Prop 8 people celebrate, No on Prop 8 just released this:
“Roughly 400,000 votes separate yes from no on Prop 8 – out of 10 million votes tallied.
Based on turnout estimates reported yesterday, we expect that there are more than 3 million and possibly as many as 4 million absentee and provisional ballots yet to be counted.
Given that fundamental rights are at stake, we must wait to hear from the Secretary of State tomorrow about how many votes are yet to be counted as well as where they are from.
It is clearly a very close election and we monitored the results all evening and this morning.
As of this point, the election is too close to call.
Because Prop 8 involves the sensitive matter of individual rights, we believe it is important to wait until we receive further information about the outcome.”
Yet even if we manage to squeak out a last minute victory (which seems at this point a tenuous hope at best) I know that in "liberal" Los Angeles county where I live, the vote was split 50% - 50%. As I write this it seems that there were only 20,806 more votes for Prop 8 than against.
So as I walk around Today, one out of every two people I see DO NOT want me to have equal rights. They see me as inferior, because I'm Gay. And that is so hurtful, and it makes me unbelievably mad. It makes me want to scream at them. Makes me want to try to hurt every one of the over 5,160,000 California voters for Prop 8 in a way that makes them understand how they've made me feel. How much they failed in their attempt to belittle, to marginalize, to shame me and my love.
But my challenge - my true challenge of character - is that the OTHER one of those two people DO want me to have equal rights. They DO value me as a human being, and they DO believe that our country really does stand for "Liberty and Justice For ALL" and that "All" includes Gay Americans like me. I want to hug them. All 4,760,000 plus of them.
And as I walk around, I have no idea who is who.
So I have a choice. Succumb to the tidal wave of bitterness that threatens to overwhelm me? See the glass as half empty, see everyone as a potential Nazi Gay-hating jerk?
Or see the good? Believe the glass is half-full? Take heart at the progress Gay Americans have made in such a relatively short time, compared to the slow progress of public opinion in "approving" interracial marriage?
It was 1948 when the California Supreme Court finally struck down the laws against interracial marriage. (The U.S. Supreme Court didn't do it until 1967.) But a majority of voters did not approve of interracial marriage until 1991.
By contrast, it was just this past May 16, 2008 when the California Supreme Court struck down the laws against Same-Gender marriage. And it appears that yesterday, November 4, 2008, we lost 52% to 48%. It was close.
And when you break the statistics available right now on yesterday's Prop 8 vote down by age, it's clear that there is a generational shift. Older voters (those 65 and older) voted for the measure 61% in favor to 39% against. But 18-29 year olds voted 61% against the referendum to 39% for it! An exact flip.
Time is on our side. The younger generations "get it," and when the old people die off and stop voting, and more young people come of age to vote, we Gay Americans will get our rights.
And while it would be easy to just be kind to everyone under 30 until then, and suspect everyone older than that, sort of like I did on my trip to Kassel, Germany, that's not really practical.
And not really me.
Now I know that the people who voted against my marriage aren't necessarily EVIL. And I'm not saying I think they want me dead, or that they are Nazis. (Though I do believe many of them would be happier if Gay Americans went back to our closets and everyone pretended to be straight and religious just like them.)
What I am saying is that the people who voted against my marriage have already voted on their moral dilemma. And they were clear: they don't want me to have the same civil rights as they do. They want our government's laws to be applied according to their own religious beliefs - and they believe that civil laws should be applied differently according to who you are. That belief in discrimination is a dangerous, slippery slope.
We should all remember that The Nuremberg Laws (laws that stripped Jewish Germans of their rights and, ultimately, of their citizenship) started in 1935, four years before Germany invaded Poland and WWII began.
A blogging friend asked me if I wanted to move to Canada where they respect Gay couples and give them federal marriage rights, and this was my response:
Thanks Andrea, I agree with you that Canada rocks!
But I'm not moving anywhere - even if Prop 8 passes, and my legal marriage slips into some kind of limbo/lawsuit realm, I will STAY and FIGHT for my rights. We will CHANGE this country for the better, and the WORLD for the better. President Obama will lead us in a better direction, and all of us fair minded people that believe Gay people should have equal rights will have to rise up and lead the leaders on this one.
It kind of goes back to the conversation about an all-gay high school or an all-bully high school. Every school should be safe for gay kids - if the bullies don't like it, let's make a special school for them. Similarly, if the bigots don't like the inevitable shift towards equal rights for all (including Gay Americans) they're welcome to move to Saudi Arabia, or Iran, or somewhere that's TRULY a theocracy - and maybe then they'll realize that having religious beliefs trump civil rights isn't such a grand idea after all.
So I'm heading out Today, and my character will be put to the test. I just hope I am able to be the man I aspire to be - someone who sees the glass as half-full, and is ready to stand up proud to demand - and work - until the rest of the glass is filled!
And in the words of my HUSBAND (hear that, world?), when he heard the news:
"We're not going to be pussies. We're going to be warriors."
See why I married him?
Wish us luck. We've got a long road ahead.