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Celebrating or mourning equality?
Celebrating or mourning equality?
by Beau Burriola - SGN Contributing Writer

So I'm sitting at home after the election night parties, and I'm torn on whether I should be celebrating or mourning.

As a Gay man, I am angry and stunned by the realization that while most Gay people supported the historic campaign of the first black president, most black people supported the historic ban on Gay marriage being written into the constitution of California.

According to NBC news exit poll data, "blacks were far more likely than whites or Hispanics to support the ban." According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "seven in 10 black voters backed the ballot initiative."

As President-elect Barack Obama stood on the stage of Grant Park of Chicago, the very symbol of equality, with people dancing in the streets of every major American city celebrating his momentous day, he said "If there's anybody out there who still questions ... the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."

President-elect Obama, I still question the power of our democracy.

For years, Gay folks have endured our own intense struggle for equality, fighting tooth and nail for tiny steps forward and being thrust suddenly a few back with every advance. We have fought in the courts for our protections, only to see that protection destroyed by voter initiatives robbing us of our gains. Where is that promise of the power of our democracy for us?

The hardest part of the constitutional Gay marriage ban for me isn't that it was so overwhelmingly supported by people who have felt the sting of inequality, who have felt what it is like to be held back unfairly. No, the hardest part for me is this notion that while every other civil rights struggle in our history has resulted in America protecting the rights of the minority from the majority, somehow we Gay people have to convince a majority of all citizens in each state that we should be afforded the same protection, that our rights are somehow up for a public popularity vote. Never in the history of a civil rights struggle has equality been so repeatedly subject to mob rule.

While Americans overcame the fear of a Bradley effect - this fear that people might say they support a black man, but then not vote for him because he's black - Gay people were forced to examine our own Bradley effect: while polls showed the Gay marriage ban failing by as much as 17%, the numbers at the voting booth showed the vote passing. Were people appeasing us?

Even as people celebrated in the streets into the early hours of the morning to cheer the new era in our great nation's history - dancing on cars and wearing funny hats and glasses like an impromptu Gay Pride parade - equal rights were failing in California, Arizona, and Florida. In an ironic day of euphoria for African Americans, Gay Americans in our country were once again reminded how far we are from ever standing atop the hill to see the proverbial Promised Land.

Indeed, we will celebrate the historic win of President-elect Obama. We will rightfully claim our part in breaking the race ceiling in this country and ushering in a new era of racial equality, an era long overdue.

But after the celebrations are over and we return to the business of the day, we will return to our fight. We will continue to draw comparisons between our struggle and the struggle of those groups before us and we will hope that, as majorities of people vote against our right to marry, one day we will not be judged by the gender of our partner, but by the content of our character.

Until then, there remains one singular struggle for civil rights; that principle that all of us are created equal and given the same rights across the board. While people tell us we cannot, we will stubbornly hold onto the hope that "yes, we can," too.

Today we both celebrate and mourn equality and wonder if we, too, will live to see the day that it all changes for us.

"It's the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day." - Barack Obama, November 4, 2008.

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