I don’t know exactly how to tell the story of my attendance at the media bus tour rally for Proposition 8 in Camarillo today. If told in a linear fashion, I doubt you’d make it to the end. Ultimately, it may be best to tell it in vignettes, not necessarily in time sequence, but as more of an impressionistic landscape of conversation, observance, and ultimately, sad conclusion.
- The No on 8 representatives were a very small contingent, maybe 10 or 12, a handful at best. As one of them explained to me, they did not seek a confrontation or wish to disrupt. They were there to represent, no more, no less. The most poignant pair were the couple (a man and a woman) holding up a sign reminding us to remember Lawrence King and what his murder represented. They were silent. I never heard them say a word. As they struggled to get around the Yes supporters trying to block visibility, they said nothing. As if they were reading each other’s mind, they crossed the street together and stood on the opposite corner, unblocked, serious, respectful, and silent, standing with the sun in their eyes, facing the group on the other side with their tragic reminder of what happens when hate transforms to action.
- The little girl and the big girl As I crossed the street to come closer to the rally itself, a girl of about sixteen handed a small girl of about five or six a sign that read “Yes on 8=Parental Rights” and told her to stand on the corner closest to the driveway. I asked the little girl what that sign said. She didn’t know. I asked her what it meant for her to be holding it. She was quiet. The older girl, in a somewhat hostile tone, asked me why I was asking such questions of a little girl. I said I was curious to understand what little kids were thinking about holding signs and being part of the political process. Her response: “She doesn’t have a clue.” Mine: “I guess that’s my point.” She looked at me quizzically and turned away.
- The preteen boys, especially the one with the Bad Religion shirt on. Two boys, around 12 or 13 stood on the north side of the rally holding Yes on 8 signs, squinting into the sun. As a car drove by honking madly for the Yes on 8 folks, they cheered like they were at a soccer game. I asked them why they were cheering.
Boy in the Bad Religion shirt: “Because if this doesn’t pass, we’ll have to let gay kindergarten kids hold hands, and that grosses me out.” His friend nodded vigorously. I asked him whether he had ever seen such a thing. “Well, no”. What made him think it would happen if Prop 8 were defeated? “The guy over there (on the podium) says so.” What else made him want Yes on 8? “Well, we’ll have to learn about gays marrying, which is totally disgusting. And my religion says it’s bad, and I’m like, totally religious.”
In my mind, I’m trying to reconcile the Bad Religion shirt with being “totally religious.” I thought about asking. Thought better of it, decided on a different approach. Repeating my earlier question, I ask them whether they’ve learned about gays marrying in school yet. “No, but they say we will.” I remind him that nothing changes if Prop 8 doesn’t pass. Changes only happen if it does pass. At that point, the man
in the suitholding a sign a ways down intervenes, asserting rather strongly that state law requires it. (Note: This is false. All family and health education is opt-in, as any parent knows who has a child in the public school system)
- The man
in the suit and tiein the jeans and polo shirt (see comments for correction). This was the only time that I felt even a little afraid. He was a bit intimidating, and shouted across to me, asking who I was “with”. I said I wasn’t ‘with’ any organization; I was a blogger. Next question: Who did I blog for? Answer: Myself. Next: What site? I gave him my site URL. Question: Which way does it lean? Answer: Proudly liberal. and Christian.
He turned and walked away. I said, rather loudly, that Jesus was more of a liberal than anything else, to which he turned and rather furiously shouted back that Jesus was certainly not a liberal.
Later, one of the observers of that exchange admonished me as he was leaving to “tell the truth”. I reassured him that I absolutely intended to do exactly that. The truth as I understood it, as fairly as I can tell it.
- The speakers on the podium. I’m not sure who they were, but they stuck to the talking points. It’s a strange thing to see Baptists allied with Mormons. In any other context, the Baptists would be furiously decrying the Mormons as a cult. Yet, they were up there on the podium cheering each other on and adding exclamation points to the points. I was having difficulty reconciling the cognitive disconnect. Everyone dressed in their Sunday Best, suits, ties, Easter dresses, children properly cleaned up and strategically placed, while hearing talking points that made no sense, yet everyone was cheering as though they’d been hypnotized.
- The talking points. First point, repeated many times: This is a campaign of love. The first time it was repeated with no explanation for how that could be true. Several repeats later, I heard this phrase: “This is a campaign of love that should not be subject to the tyranny of the minority.” I also heard this: “They’ve got it all. Don’t let them have this, too.” The term “they” referred to gays. “This” referred to marriage. When I heard that, I immediately wondered what they meant by “got it all”. I also wondered how they were reconciling that statement with the idea of it being a campaign of love. Could it be that they were limiting the concept of love to the religious, the heterosexual, the married heterosexuals? Was that kind of intellectual dishonesty truly possible? It reminded me of the kind of love that abusive parents administer. They hold you close and hug you before knocking you across the room with one backhand to the face. That kind of love.
- The cheerleading The final, and presumably key speaker could preach like a revival preacher in the Deep South. Lots of amens and calls to preach it from the crowd. At the end of his speech, he drove up the passions by calling for them to shout out “I do!” to each talking point. The first point was to affirm marriage as only being between a man and a woman. With rising pitch, he would ask the crowd “Do you swear to….(insert talking point here)”, and the crowd would rise and shout as if lifted by God Himself, “I DO!!!”. Each successive call for affirmation was louder and louder. All I could think of was the children who had no clue what the fever was all about, but would go along because they were in an exciting and energized group of people, driven by emotion and inspiration.
- The men who didn’t know who Lawrence King was or why he should be remembered. Two men overheard as I was about to cross the street to leave, upon observing the couple with the “Remember Lawrence King” sign crossing the street: “Who is Lawrence King? Do you know?” “No, I don’t.” Barely able to contain myself, I turned with a smile and said “Lawrence King was murdered in cold blood in his homeroom class in Port Hueneme last February. In front of 40 eighth-graders. By a kid taught to be afraid of and hate gays.” I turned on my heel and left. This was front-page news here, and ultimately made the national news as well. It wasn’t a secret. Yet here were two full-grown men who had no clue who that poor boy was. Lawrence King was a resident at Casa Pacifica, a resident facility for troubled teens. It’s always struck me as ironic that, despite being part of a so-called traditional family, those traditional family values failed him. His killer is a troubled boy as well. I certainly don’t see where the ever-sanctified family was an asset to him either, other than to make sure a gun was accessible so he could put two bullets into Larry King’s head at point-blank range in front of his classmates.
I was glad they couldn’t see the tears welling up in my eyes at the affront.
- The priest and the parishioner. Among the handful of people standing in opposition to Proposition 8, the one who most stood out was the gentle-looking man in the priest’s collar. He was involved in a respectful, intense conversation with another man who was arguing respectfully, but passionately, that homosexuality was a perversion. There was no question that the conversation was pointed and intense, but not confrontational. At one point, one of the Yes on 8 people brought a bottle of cold water to the priest. He accepted and said “I think I’ve just seen the face of Jesus today.”, as a way of thanking the water-bringer. What a generous and clear-headed spirit that priest had. I think I saw the face of Jesus, too. But it was on the priest, not the parishioner.
I have other fragmented, less clear impressions. Impressions of people, well-intentioned, sincere people, who somehow had been duped into thinking that somehow allowing same-sex marriage threatened their own heterosexual marriages. Impressions of children, happy to be at a big party, with no clue what the party was celebrating. Children being misled and taught falsehoods about what being gay was and what it wasn’t. Children being raised to be afraid, to not speak their minds or their hearts. The quiet determination of the two people on the corner. The TV cameraman who asked me which side I was on, and applauded my answer: That I was a Christian on the side of love and inclusion, strongly opposed to the idea of excluding anyone from entering into a marriage contract and a lifelong loving relationship.
Impressions of middle schoolers, anxious to be included in the event, but young enough to be distracted by the idea of tossing a baseball against the gargatuan Yes on 8 sign on the side of the truck. Impressions of a crowd stirred by the charismatic words and delivery of the preachers in the pulpit, fiercely guarding their right to be married to their loving spouse on the other side, believing in their deepest heart that they were somehow threatened.
And there is this: the impression that Christianity has been somehow twisted into an exclusive club where an entire segment of the population is to be toughloved out of the mainstream into the fringe. A sense of deep disappointment, of loss, grief that people could be led in such a way and in turn lead their children. Disappointment that there was not one mention of what Jesus did for those on the fringe, the lepers, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the unwanted and the unwashed. For Jesus, it was all about them. And us.
As I reached my car, I smiled at the woman across the street who had told the Yes on 8 people they couldn’t park in front of her house. I got in the car, turned around, and cried all the way home. I remember sitting in front of my own house wondering how such ignorance, such venom, could be celebrated by a church. I will never forget the tone and manner with which the line “Don’t let them have this, too.” was delivered. That tone will haunt me for the rest of my life, as will the image of Lawrence King’s sweet face.
I printed his picture. I put it in my wallet. I will carry it with me to the polls on November 4th, and when I draw my line across the arrow on my ballot pointing to “No” next to Proposition 8, I will say a prayer that he is up in Heaven sending love our way.
This question of marriage is about love. Allowing everyone to celebrate and express it. Allowing each individual the basic human right to fall in love, and make a public commitment to remain true to one another, and that commitment is as valid for same-sex marriages as it is for heterosexual marriages. In a world where there are true threats to our well-being — disease, poverty, hunger, abuse, abandoned, unloved children — we should celebrate those who want to affirm commitment and a pledge of love to one another, not condemn it.
I don’t pretend to be objective. I’m not. I truly in my heart believe that excluding a group from something as good as marriage is wrong. Teaching children to be afraid of, or ridicule those different from them is wrong. Please, instead of making it an us versus them thing, vote No on Proposition 8 and make it only an US thing. Because we are all US. Aren’t we?