One Step Forward, One Step Back
November 7, 2008
Last night I was watching an American television show made several years ago. A black character launched into a speech about the contribution African-Americans had made to the country, and how these contributions continued to be undervalued. I turned to my husband and said “this is a conversation that no longer has to take place.” As has been said by almost every commentator, the election of Barack Obama marks a major passage in the history of the US civil rights movement. It changes the way we perceive race relations, and will continue to do so as Obama governs and his family occupies the White House.
If you believe that the biography of the president sends an important message about the mindset and values of the country, as most Americans do, it becomes clear what the next goal for equality in presidential politics is. It is not to elect a woman. Without sounding like I am in anyway in favour of Palin 2012, I am sure that we will have a female president in the next 20 odd years. Hilary Clinton’s campaign achievements and Palin’s nomination make it easy to imagine a woman becoming president. Thus the challenge for extending the presidency to all Americans is to elect a gay man or woman president.
While voters were making history by voting for the first African-American President, in California, they were also undoing history by voting to ban gay marriage. Proposition 8, which reverses the California Supreme Court’s ruling legalising gay marriage, passed in part because many minorities who turned out to vote for Obama also voted to ban gay marriage. It also passed because the conservative base in California, assured of a loss in the presidential election, put massive resources into campaigning for Proposition 8. We have moved one step forward and one step back in our goal to extend equal rights to all citizens. And legalising gay marriage across the country is just one of many things that remain to be done to ensure that gay Americans have equal rights.
44 years elapsed between the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the election of our first black president. We should hope that it does not take that long to see a gay person hold the presidency. Because until we do, we have little right to crow over how tolerant and open-minded we are… even if we have made history this week.