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My heart broke last week. Jennifer Vanasco - special to the SGN
My heart broke last week. Jennifer Vanasco - special to the SGN
My heart broke last week.

A lot of our hearts did.

On election night, I was sitting in New York City's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, which was standing room only. We were all riveted to CNN. I was blogging, so I was staring at my laptop, switching back and forth between presidential election results and the Proposition 8 vote.

Two things happened at the exact same moment:

Obama was declared president-elect;

And the numbers made it clear that we were losing marriage in California.

At the Center, everyone was on their feet laughing, cheering, crying, hugging strangers. They were jubilant. They didn't know what I knew.

My head was in my hands.

I sobbed all the way to the subway. Passers-by must have thought I was grieving the McCain-Palin ticket. But I felt betrayed by my own party, which came out to vote for Obama and, in the meantime, voted against me. I felt betrayed, also, by Barack Obama. In the polls leading up to election day, it was clear he was heading for a victory. He could have used some of that political capital to speak strongly against Prop 8. Instead, he reiterated that he believed marriage was between a man and a woman, before saying weakly that constitutions shouldn't be used to take rights away from people.

The next day, gays across the country had an emotional hangover. What had happened? How could we have lost so definitively, after a summer when it seemed we had won?

We lost Amendment 2 in Florida, which not only enshrined discrimination against gay marriage into the state constitution, but also made civil unions and domestic partnerships impossible.

We lost in Arizona, which in 2006 had been the only state to fight back against an anti-gay marriage amendment (the one bright spot - it was conservative voters who pushed that through, not liberal ones). We lost in Arkansas, where voters decided that "unmarried couples," code for gays and lesbians, cannot foster or adopt children, even though the state has three times as many children needing homes than there are people willing to take them in.

Across the country, Obama won. Gays lost.

What kind of change are people voting for, I wondered, if at the same time they elected Obama, they also voted against gay civil rights? Is this the kind of changed country I want to live in?

No. It is not.

We are right to be heartbroken and angry about this. We are right to march, we are right to sue, we are right to contact our legislators, we are right to demand that Obama keep his campaign promise and guarantee federal civil rights for gay and lesbians couples.

But we are not right to place blame.

The past few days have become a witch hunt. There are those in our community who are looking for someone to finger for our loss.

One target: African-Americans, who turned out in record numbers to support Obama and then voted 70 percent in favor of Prop 8 and against gay marriage.

A second target: the Mormon Church, which raised the bulk of the money supporting Prop 8.

But if we want to know who lost gay marriage in California, we have to look in a mirror.

African-Americans may have voted against Prop 8, but so did 50 percent of whites - representing 63 percent of voters. And 53 percent of Latinos. And 49 percent of Asians.

And yes, Mormons gave a lot of money. But we raised $43.6 million, compared to the other side's $29.8 million.

If we want a true target, we need to look in a mirror.

We weren't paying enough attention to Proposition 8. We were cocky - we believed that because Barack Obama was headed for a landslide, Prop 8 would lose by a landslide as well.

Instead of the rest of us non-Californians phone banking to fight Prop 8, or leading education efforts, we were making cold calls for Obama and canvassing for votes in Pennsylvania and Indiana.

We looked at the favorable numbers in September, we celebrated Connecticut giving us marriage in October, and we thought there was no way California - California! - would take a fundamental right away from us once it was already granted.

We were wrong.

We were wrong, but now it not the time to place blame. We need to move on to the next step - to letting the legislatures in New York and New Jersey know that we support their efforts to give us marriage in those two states. And we must build a deeper, wider base of allies in California, Florida, Arkansas and Arizona, so that next time we have an opportunity to gain our rights back, we will not lose.

Our hearts were broken. But we have no time to point fingers. Instead, we must pick up our own pieces and get back in the fight.

Jennifer Vanasco is an award-winning, syndicated columnist. Email her at

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