Today I’ve been thinking a lot about labels. Folks around the newsmedia have been speculating whether the election of Obama (wahoo!) means that we are now in a “post-racial America.” I definitely do not think that even the election of an African-American man for president can rectify the racial inequities in our country. From differences in housing, job, and employment opportunities, to the quality of education available to many children of color. There clearly remain these inequalities. But, thinking just about the election, I was intrigued to hear that race played a role in the majority of folks’ voting decisions, BUT it did not play a negative role. Namely, those for whom race was a factor were more likely to vote for Obama.
So where do the labels come in? I’m impressed with many in the country that they were able to move beyond whatever associations they might have, or might have been taught, or might have heard implied with racial labels. I do not rest easy, of course, because there is just too much hate out there. But I’m definitely in awe.
And yet. And it’s a big yet. There’s proposition 8 in California. Here’s what astounds me: The very same folks who voted overwhelmingly for Obama voted FOR a ballot measure taking AWAY the rights of gay and lesbian folks to marry in the state. Now there are still a few votes to be counted, but it doesn’t look good. And I think the labels play a huge role in this. There’s fear that gay marriage means that non-gay marriage will lose its clout. Or its sanctity. Or something. Or that making marriage legal for everyone means that kids will learn about sexual orientation in school (and that is bad because….?) or actually learn about g*ay s*x in school. How one gets from a civil rights issue to instruction about s*x is beyond me. It really is. And I often am able to be open-minded.
The LGBT label is still a threatening and scary one to many, many folks. To the majority of folks in California. Applying that label to the idea of marriage is a threat to them. It brings their own marriages too close to the lives of GLBT folks. So they voted for the measure out of fear. Fear of the label and all the meaning that it carries for them.
So, while I’m so very humbled that our country was able to look beyond racial labels last night in the election, my joy is tempered by the willingness of folks to take away the rights of a group living within another label. Slapping labels on others is limiting. But more limiting is when you take away the rights of those folks because of that label. So those last uncounted votes: I have a glimmer of hope that they will help to keep the rights of families/marriages like mine intact. That they will help to expand the marriage label. And really that they will just let families and couples be. Just be.