Chapter 29: Proposition 8

The 2012 presidential election is over. Obama won, Romney lost. Thank God!

Despite the great news in congressional and senate races, my soul still aches for an election issue that crushed me during the 2008 election: Proposition 8.

Proposition 8 (or the California Marriage Protection Act) was a ballot proposition that passed in the November 2008 state elections in California. The measure provided that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Consequently, Proposition 8 restricted marriage to same-sex couples.

You might wonder what Proposition 8 has to do with me since I’m not gay. Proposition 8 unjustly hurt my gay friends and my cousin Anthony who’s been dead for 20 years.

My cousin Anthony died of HIV-AIDS on September 6, 1992. I was emotionally shattered as was the rest of our family. He was not yet 38 years old.

Anthony lived upstairs from us on Monticello Avenue with his brother Herb and his mom, my Aunt Mary Ann. In his last years, he lived in a San Francisco suburb and worked for United Airlines. At that time, he and I were the only Saccos living outside of Chicago.

Anthony was a gay man growing up in a homophobic neighborhood. At the time some of my family was homophobic. Gays were “sword swallowers,” “fags,” and other vile labels that cruel and ignorant idiots used. Kids got beat up if bullies suspected they were gay.

Anthony never revealed his gay status to me even though he knew I was not gay phobic and that I had a lot of gay friends and colleagues. It always surprised me, but I always respected his privacy.

The last time I saw Anthony was in San Francisco in December 1991. I was there attending the Modern Language Association annual conference and we got together for dinner at one of San Francisco’s many excellent Italian restaurants. I had no idea that his disease was so advanced; if I had, I wouldn’t have asked him to walk miles and miles from the Hilton to the Embarcadero and back. During dinner, we talked about my job; we laughed and talked and reminisced about our youth together Chicago. The incessant repeating of Sacco stories is always savored among the Saccos and non-Saccos. We agreed to see each other in Boise, Idaho where my family and I were preparing to move. Unfortunately, I never saw Anthony again, except at his funeral.

In 2008, Proposition 8 passed. Proposition 8 led to arguments with friends, my Alpine neighbors and even my wife. Today, when I see a car with a YES ON PROPOSITION 8 bumper sticker, I have to fight myself from throwing them the finger and yelling VAFFANCULO, STRONZO REPUBBLICANO.

Proponents of the constitutional amendment argued that exclusively heterosexual marriage was “an essential institution of society,” “Marriage will be ruined if it is extended to gays and lesbians,” argued the YES a**holes. Same-sex marriage didn’t negatively impacted my marriage, nor anyone else’s marriage I knew.

Opponents argued that “the freedom to marry is fundamental to our society,” and that the California constitution “should guarantee the same freedom and rights to everyone.” The passing of Proposition 8 created one set of rules and laws for gay and lesbian couples and another set for everyone else.”  Equality under the law lost its legitimacy in my eyes.

What angered me the most was the active involvement of the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Latter-Day Saints among other churches. The Roman Catholic Church, as well as its lay fraternal organization, the Knights of Columbus, firmly supported Proposition 8. The Mormon Church announced its support of Proposition 8 in a letter to all Mormon congregations in California to “do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time.” About 45 percent of LDS contributions came from outside the state of California. Other religious organizations that supported Proposition 8 include the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America the Eastern Orthodox Church, and Evangelical Christians. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and the pastor at Obama’s inauguration, also backed the measure.

Millions of dollars were spent, not to erase poverty or illness, but on a homophobic political measure.

Churches have the right to select the rules of marriage. If that means the exclusive union of a man and woman, that’s fine with me. Churches, on the other hand, have no business pushing an agenda for the state, at least in the United States.

If we were in Italy, I could accept the intrusion of the Roman Catholic Church in state affairs. For decades, the Italian state followed the lead of the Vatican for divorce and abortion. Crucifixes in public school classrooms in Italy are an example of the Vatican’s influence in state affairs.

My parish, “Our Lady of Hypocrites,” played an insipid role in the Proposition 8 debate. Every Sunday during the campaign, the parish priests, using the pulpit as a political forum, pushed hard for a yes vote from their parishioners. One Sunday after Mass, a female parishioner stopped me and strongly suggested that I sign the petition against same-sex marriage. I declined and headed for my car in the parking lot. All of a sudden, I heard the petitioner tell her young daughter that I was anti marriage. I was furious! I returned to her table and told her I was pro-equal rights for all Californians and all Americans. A heated argument ensued which attracted the attention of other parishioners, none of whom sided with me. I reported the experience to the pastor, complaining about the petitioner’s tactics to no avail.

That was the last time I ever attended Mass, except for weddings and funerals.

During the campaign, I thought often about Anthony and his partner. Anthony’s partner soon died after attending Anthony’s funeral in Chicago in 1992. His face was covered with sores and he was worn down by the ravages of HIV-AIDS. The Saccos welcomed him at the funeral as they would have welcomed a grieving spouse in a traditional marriage. Despite anti-gay comments in the past, I could see a true acceptance of Anthony’s partner and Anthony’s decision to live a gay lifestyle. I have never been so proud of my family!

I thought also of same-sex couples in California, of their mutual love and respect in their unions. I saw them being blamed for the potential destruction of marriage. I heard ridiculous claims that if same-sex marriage existed, the electorate would have to accept marriage between humans and animals.

Merda totale!

In 2012 several states passed marriage rights for same-sex couples. More states will soon adopt similar ground-breaking civil rights measures. I am happy for my gay friends and family members.

I am happy because I know Anthony is smiling.

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About growingupcalabrese

Professor of French and Italian at San Diego State University
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