Tuesday evening. I spent it with baited breath sitting at the bar in Baltimore airport, surrounded by boys with buzz-cuts and camouflage who were headed for Iraq. They seemed strangely unconcerned by the drama that was unfolding in red and blue on the screens in front of us. I, for my part, nearly missed my flight. By the time I was dragged off by ground staff, Virginia, Florida and Pennsylvania had all closed but none had yet declared. It wasn’t until we were landing at Heathrow that we learned from the captain that one of the biggest barriers to equality in the US had been dealt what I hope will be a fatal blow. We had elected a black man to lead us through what will surely be very hard times.
And it wasn’t until much later that I learned that the other great barrier to equality had been shored up, for now. Three states have supported a ban on gay marriage and a fourth has entrenched its prejudice. Nowhere is this more disappointing than in California, which began to allow people so joyously to marry in June. Needless to say the support for Proposition 8, which reversed the ability of people who love one another to marry even if they happen to have similar genitals, is now bringing people out on the streets of San Francisco in protest. Needless to say, Sarah Palin’s mates at the Traditional Values Coalition are gloating over their victory. Their new book, “The Agenda: The homosexual plan to change America”, yours for just $19.99, is a textbook on how to play dirty in political campaigning.
It makes me cross, of course. But I can’t help agreeing with Andrew Sullivan that this is not a fatal blow to the right of people to be treated equally regardless of which adults they choose to have sex with. As he points out, when California last voted on this in 2008, 61 percent of people who cared enough to tick a box were opposed to gay marriage. This time it was just 52 percent. (There are some interesting graphics on the LA Times website.) Voters appear to become more in favour of gay marriage with every generation so as the dinosaurs age out of the voting pool and more younger voters replace them, the margin will almost certainly be reversed.
In fact, the ban on same-sex marriage in California would probably have been ditched on Tuesday if it weren’t for Obama. I find it somewhat ironic that the very voters who were tearing down one set of prejudices were busy shoring up another. Black voters, who turned out in unprecedented numbers to put a black family in the White House, voted heavily against gay marriage.