Conversations About Prop 8

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Katie Love-Cooksey ’10, Los Angeles student with two moms

“They were planning to get married as soon as they knew they could,” said Love-Cooksey of her parents, who have been together for 27 years. Her moms eloped in San Francisco in 2004 but then had their marriage overturned by the court. “The mayor of San Francisco said this is absurd, it’s not right, it’s discriminatory… so let’s marry people in City Hall… a bunch of couples hopped on a plane and flew up… [and] waited all day in line. It was really cool, there were lines around the block.” After their San Francisco marriage was annulled, Love-Cooksey’s parents were registered as a domestic partnership.

What were their feelings in the weeks leading up to the vote on Prop 8? “I had been keeping up with polls and my parents were telling me how it was going, hoping it was going to fail… the campaigns had a horrendous ad which showed a little boy coming home from kindergarten and saying ‘Boys can marry boys!’, like if we say its okay then we will be teaching our children it’ll be okay… [it was] much more about scare tactics than anything else.”

Love-Cooksey continued, “A lot of my experience with prejudice against gay families is that people have this odd conception of the gay lifestyle as being free and non-responsible… they think of it as not committed to each other, and don’t seem to realize that if you are gay, it’s hard to get a kid, it won’t happen accidentally! Gays and lesbians have to think about it a lot harder.”

Indeed, Katie’s parents “sued to have mamma considered as my mother as well.” The suit took place in Boston in 1992, and “it was the first successful co-parent adoption case. My dad gave up his rights to me and mommy gave up rights to me.” Then both of her mothers sued to be recognized as her legal guardians, “so I am legally adopted despite the fact that one of my parents is my birth-mother.”

Love-Cooksey continued, “So many people have been waiting for this chance. Part of this is about legal rights, and that whole side of it, and part of it is the recognition [of] being married that domestic partnership just gives… in terms of a lifestyle living together, domestic partnership doesn’t have the same place in their world view.”

Bevan Gerber-Siff ’10, San Francisco student with two moms

Gerber-Siff told the Gazette that “I didn’t vote in California partly because I don’t think my vote makes much of a difference there… everyone in California knew it was going to go for Obama, so Prop 8 was the big issue they needed to vote on.” Living in San Francisco, “I didn’t do much activism… I think I can only name one person I know who I would put money on having voted for Prop 8.”

Gerber-Siff was “disappointed it had passed,” but unlike Love-Cooksey, he feels that “it doesn’t make a huge difference to my family… this policy has been on the table in some way for years and my parents, for example, when Newsom told City Hall to register gay weddings, my parents just laughed. They’d been together for twenty years and didn’t need the government to validate their marriage… their kids were already adults, so the time for them when the legal and financial benefits would have been really useful had passed.”

Gerber-Siff is adopted by both of his parents, and said “that’s useful because if I was able to get hospitalized only my bio mom would be able to visit me…there are other things like claiming dependents for your taxes, but by the time one of your kids is 22 and the other one is 18, marriage is mostly irrelevant.”

Gerber-Siff does feel that “it’s not right for the government to mandate who can get married, especially when it’s an issue of financial and social stability as well as a religious ceremony…. I don’t feel like the government should mandate what a church can or can’t do, but so long as marriage carries other connotations than simply the religious ceremony, it should be a right to anyone regardless of who they want to marry.” He continued, “I think the family values argument is completely irrelevant…maybe they’re worse, maybe better, but everyone should have the right to raise the kind of family they want to raise.”

Living in San Francisco, Gerber-Siff says, “we live in a city where it’s the least of an issue it could be…I feel like gay marriage gets blown out of proportion for what it is. There’s no question in my mind that gay marriage will be legal some day…I know people need to keep fighting, but it will happen, whereas I’m not entirely confident that virulent homophobia will ever disappear.”

Finally, “it really bothers me how marriage-centered gay marriage discussions have been. At least in the popular media, it relates to it as if it should be the goal of every life partnership to get married, for the same reasons that the traditional straight American nuclear family is needing marriage.” He continued, “It doesn’t acknowledge that people who don’t feel a religious institution needs to validate their partnership are out there too… I think a civil union would serve every role marriage would without bringing a religious connotation in.”

Arthur Chu ’06, served as team captain for ‘No on 8’ in Long Beach

“I sat on my ass and didn’t do anything for a long time,” wrote Chu in an e-mail. “I think my attitude was pretty much a microcosm of what went wrong with No on 8 in general… I honestly believed ‘Come on, it’s California! The tide has turned! There’s no way we can lose!’ Then the polls started coming out showing Prop 8 actually leading… I think I went through all the lamentable phases of the phenomenon right along with everyone else — blaming Latinos, blaming black people, blaming Mormons, blaming myself for driving away other Democrats from the queer/ally community.”

At first, Chu signed up to do some phone banking for No on 8 from home, but “the moment of truth came for me when I found that YouTube video put up by a church group with the two creepy little Asian kids singing a Yes on 8 song… the whole thing was such a slap in the face — nay, roundhouse kick to the solar plexus — of everything I held to be decent and good that I had to do something… I want to never have to hear the horrible grating sound of a kid who doesn’t know better singing bigotry and being paraded as a shining example for bigots to rally around.”

That’s how Chu agreed to be a team captain for Election Day, although he cautioned that “being a ‘team captain’ is really an incredibly unimpressive title, and merely requires that you lack the courage to say “no” when the guy with the clipboard tells you how earnestly they need more team captains. It’s pretty much the same way I briefly became treasurer of the Swarthmore rugby team six years ago.”

Throughout the day of electioneering, “[I was] turning the image of those singing children over and over in my mind, thinking about my conservative Christian Asian-American upbringing and how if I’d been born fifteen years later I might have been one of those kids.” He continued, “The most memorable part of the evening was just a half hour before polls closed, when I got a phone call on my cell from HQ… telling us that voter turnout reports had dropped precipitously with the massive Obama wins being reported from the East Coast, that for all the work we’d done we might lose the election due to Democrats resting on their laurels and staying home…I called every vaguely left-leaning name I could think of on my cell phone…but sadly, no former Swatties informed me that they had fifty elderly low-information California voters hidden in their closet that they could ship by Star Trek transporter to their polling places in the next fifteen minutes.”

Chu continued, “Looking back I’m really pissed thinking about the polls that showed Yes on 8 and No on 8 roughly even in numbers but the No on 8 respondents feeling far less strongly about it than Yes on 8 respondents. I’d been one of those people, too — not so much because I consciously ranked gay rights as low on my priority list, but because it just wasn’t a big looming part of my own life…the most heartbreaking thing that stuck in my mind about the campaign experience was chatting with a team member who was an out lesbian…she said she was a lot less political than I was, that she’d only recently become interested in politics because of the Prop 8 issue, that all she wanted was to know that her marriage still counted.”

“She said she’d wanted to get involved with queer activist groups in college but she’d always been turned off by protest culture and intimidated by ‘people like me.’ I asked her what ‘people like me’ meant and she said, ‘You know, the really aggressive gay men who tend to want to speak for all queer people — no offense.’ She seemed shocked when I told her I was straight. For the rest of the day she kept expressing amazement that ‘a straight person would care enough about us to do something like this’… this is the face of the organized, militant, radical ‘gay agenda’ the Yes on 8 diehards were recruiting their children to stand against. An ordinary, introverted woman who’d rather be doing a million things than standing out on the street talking to strangers, who was less political by nature than even a dilettantish ex-Swattie like me, whose only ‘agenda’ was being terrified that the state might revoke her marriage license to the woman she loved.”

Asked about what he sees happening to gay marriage in the future, Chu wrote, “I’d like to say I think that the inevitable march of human progress is toward more humane, tolerant institutions, but frankly I think that’s bull. I have a lot of hope right now because of how galvanized I see people right now — and I think that if that energy fades and we go back to who-cares complacency again… then we may well see a reversal in the fortunes of gay rights that lasts for decades… I do think complacency and a sense of historical inevitability is one of the most common and one of the worst traits of liberals. We need to get over that, and fast.”

David Burgy ’10, went to Prop 8 protests in Philadelphia

On November 15th, millions of people across the country went to mass protests against Prop 8, including Burgy. “I went to the protest in Philly because it was important to me that I be there at a big rally,” he said. “It was pretty cool in terms of having many people there. There were several hundred, maybe a thousand… the idea of the rally was about taking a stand, especially within the Philadelphia region, and making it known that the LGBTQ movement is here and here to stay.”

Burgy reflected, “I think what resonated with many segments of the queer community was a sense of ‘Change is coming on the national front, but on a state by state front, out identities are not protected.’” He pointed to the losses on the issue of gay adoption as well, for example in Arkansas, where a proposition passed that bars queer people from adopting children. “[They’re saying] it’s better for a child to be cared for in the social service system… that the state can do a better job than queer individuals, that queer people are unfit to be parents.”

He continued, “A lot of [Swarthmore students] feel that there’s a good push for single-issue politics but not enough understanding of a larger framework. It was important for us to interact with other people who are in the community in Philly… we want to make connections between other identities such as race and class.”

“I think what we saw, rising out of the Obama victory and the Prop 8 loss… the mainstream has attempted to divide the queer community and black community by reinforcing ideas that these communities are separate and different where in fact they overlap… I am disappointed in the misuse of statistics when it comes to an attempt to divide and the mainstream’s attempt to lay blame on another community.”

Josh Cockroft ’12, organizing Swarthmore to protest at Milk this weekend

Cockroft wrote in an e-mail that “The protest is a nationwide silent protest that started on Facebook under the title ‘I Cannot Support Proposition 8.’ On December 5th, today, Gus Van Sant’s movie MILK hits theaters in wide release. This weekend, we asked opponents of Proposition 8 and the legislation that is keeping away equal rights to LGBT couples to wear a plain white tee shirt that reads “I Cannot Support Proposition 8” to one of the weekend’s screenings of MILK as a tribute to the work of a movement that has come a long way in thirty years and a refusal to give up the fight against discrimination.”

Cockroft encouraged other students to get involved, since all you have to do is make a t-shirt “and wear it to the 8:30 screening of MILK at the Ritz 5 Theaters in Philadelphia. As I said before, it’s a silent protest. No bullhorns. No picket signs. Merely a statement of what you believe in.”

Cockroft, who grew up spending summers in California, said, “I first heard about Proposition 8 from my Dad in California before the election. He had mentioned how a large group of people… had put a lot of funding into pushing an initiative that would take away same-sex marriage. We both didn’t believe it would pass.”

When Cockroft realized that it had indeed passed, “it drove me to do research on all that had happened and the marriage codes in California. And while most of the state-based rights granted to same-sex couples are granted underneath a domestic partnership, I feel that there is power in a name. Just as Plessy v. Ferguson’s “separate but equal” decision was repealed during the fights against segregation, issuing two different institutions under this notion of ‘separate but equal’ in my mind is utterly ridiculous… I feel that there must be a fight against discrimination and to sit idly is to disbelieve in Obamaian ‘change.’”

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