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Prop 8 foes grapple with the blow and joy of Nov 4

on November 7, 2008


Nov. 6 — “Just like the body can be sick from being exposed to hot and cold,” the Reverend Roland Stringfellow said today, “my soul was sick from being exposed to jubilation over Obama’s election and defeat from the passage of Prop 8.”

Stringfellow, of the Center for Gay and Lesbian Studies at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, was one of many in the area who described the powerful clash of emotions yesterday—waves of despair, over the approval of the measure prohibiting gay marriage in California, and elation over Obama’s victory in the presidential election.

In Alameda County—where “No on 8” signs waved on many corners Tuesday, people took to the streets in celebration of Obama’s win, and yet 60 percent of the county’s population voted against Prop 8—how are gay marriage supporters handling the conflicting emotions of victory and defeat ?

Sonja Tottenha and Joseph Sheppers, 51st and Temescal, Sunday. Photo by Anna Bloom.

Sonja Tottenha and Joseph Sheppers, 51st and Telegraph, Sunday. Photo by Anna Bloom.

Jeannie Koops-Elson, a Berkeley resident who campaigned against Prop 8 on Election Day, said Wednesday brought conflicting emotions for her. “I was so amped about Obama’s victory,” she said. “I was sort of watching the Prop 8 results come back on the bottom of the screen, and I thought there was still hope. Then I woke up in the morning and it had passed, and it really took the wind out of my sails.”

Koops-Elson, who is in a heterosexual marriage, said she was involved in the “No on 8” campaign because of gay friends who would like to be married. “I have been married for 11 years and my parents were married for 40, and I feel like it’s such a blessing for me,” she said. “It’s a right that should be available to everyone.”

Oakland resident Ellise Nicholson was in line to vote at 7AM on Nov . 4. Watching the results come in Tuesday night felt like a constant see-sawing , she said—between elation over Obama’s win and worry over Prop 8’s apparent success. “I woke up all throughout the night,” she said, “first to revel in the joy of the Obama win, and then to check my computer for results on Prop 8.  But even knowing Prop 8 was losing, I felt like skipping all day long because of our new President.”

Alex Brennan, a Berkeley graduate student who phone-banked for the “No on 8” campaign for months leading up to the election, spent three hours on Tuesday at a North Berkeley traffic circle demonstrating with other “No on 8” activists. He said passing drivers waved, honked, and gave his group the thumbs-up. From that corner of the world, it would have been hard to predict California’s passage of Prop 8 with 52 percent in favor.

“I ran into someone who just got married, and he was really upset,” Brennan said Wednesday. “He cried, and he’d been crying the night before. I thought, ‘Wow, this is a really big deal.’”

Reverend Stringfellow held a service Wednesday morning, after it became clear that Proposition 8 had passed. “I was glad to go to the service to talk through, sing through, and pray through these feelings,” he said. “It was an up and down emotional roller-coaster I was on. Many people who came to this service were couples who had just gotten married. To see their hearts break and their tears—I wish people who voted yes on 8 could see and hear this emotion.”

According to CNN exit polls, 70 percent of African-Americans in California voted yes on Prop 8. An even larger proportion of black women –75 percent—voted in support of the measure. Locally, Oakland’s African-American community still seems divided on the issue. Many queried today said they did not want to talk about Proposition 8. “It’s a touchy subject in the community,” said Kimberly Turner, owner of the Relaax hair salon in North Oakland’s Mosswood neighborhood.

For Stringfellow, recovering and moving on from the blow of Prop 8’s passage is a personal duty. “This has hit me directly, in terms of being African-American and the large percentage of African-Americans who voted yes on Prop 8,” he said. “I personally want to become more articulate when talking to communities who want to use the Bible as justification for this discrimination. Let’s talk about whether it’s Christ-like to throw your children out into the street because they want to live their lives in a way that’s true to their identity.”

Another African-American minister, LaVerne Tolbert, disagreed. “My concern is that people think of this as a civil rights issue, when this is a moral issue,” she said. “The first evidence we have of marriage is in the Bible. So we’re talking about an institution established and ordained by God.”

Tolbert, also an adjunct professor for the Azusa Pacific University Haggard School of Theology and author of a book titled “Keeping Your Kids Sexually Pure: A How-To Guide for Parents, Pastors, Youth Workers and Teachers,” was firm about the motivations of Prop 8 supporters. “It’s not a hate vote. There’s no hate involved here,” she said. “People made a vote based on their faith.”

Tolbert said gays are three percent of the population (some studies support that figure, but others estimate it higher.) “It’s not fair that three percent of the population determines a law,” she said.

Some wondered whether opinions about gay marriage varied by generation. “I’d be really interested to see how African-Americans from age 18-25 voted on this,” said salon owner Turner, . “It seems like young people have been exposed to these issues more.”

Jennifer Kaplan, owner of the Rockridge Home store on College Avenue in Oakland, gave one such example, of an African American student from Claremont Middle School who campaigned against Prop 8. “During our election day party at the store, he came in holding a ‘No on 8’ placard. It was really amazing – he went up to every person in the store and asked them if they voted on 8, saying ‘Vote no on 8, because it’s hateful.’”

Keith Kamisugi, communications director at the Equal Justice Society, which supported the “No on 8” campaign, said he was unwilling to draw a direct link between African-American voter turnout for Obama and Proposition 8’s success. But he did acknowledge Obama’s influence on the Prop 8 vote. Responding to reports that “Yes on 8” campaigners distributed mailers and made phone calls saying Senator Obama supported Prop 8, he said Prop 8 opponents “should have made it better known that Barack Obama opposed it” in order to reach Obama supporters.

Obama has said he does not support gay marriage, but also referred to Prop 8 in an interview as “divisive and discriminatory.” During his Presidential campaign, he refrained from expressing strong support for or opposition to state efforts to make gay marriage illegal.

“I’m a straight Asian-American,” said Kamisugi, referring to his sexuality, “so for me my personal disappointment with the vote on 8 is that we let bigotry win on election day—at least for the moment. Bigotry is not just something that impacts same sex couples: people of color have experienced bigotry in the past and will experience it in the future. We’re all in this boat together.”||||||||||||||||||||||

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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