November 17, 2008

Ithacans Protest Proposition 8

Print More

The dark gray of a typical Ithacan overcast sky contrasted sharply Saturday afternoon with the rainbow-hued umbrellas held by community members and students who were assembled on the Commons to protest Proposition 8, as well as Propositions 2 and 102, which ban marriage between same sex couples.
The protest was organized by Lambda, Cornell Law’s LGBT and ally group, but was meant to be part of Join the Impact, a movement created in the days following Election Day to protest Proposition 8. Saturday, people from across the country held coordinated protests at 1:30 p.m. According to the Join the Impact website, the combined protests included over 1 million people in 300 cities in the United States, as well as in 10 other countries.
Proposition 8 is a ballot initiative passed on Nov. 4 in California that amended the state’s Constitution to define marriage as strictly between a man and a woman. This proposition overrode a California Supreme Court decision that recognized same-sex marriage as a fundamental right. As per the wording of the initiative, this text will now be added to the California constitution: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Arizona and Florida also passed similar propositions, 102 and 3, respectively, on Nov. 4. California was unique in that unlike in the other two states, same-sex marriage had been classified as legal and the ability for couples of all sexual orientations to be married had been declared a “fundamental right.” Proposition 8 actively took away that right.[img_assist|nid=33664|title=United in protest|desc=Members of the Ithaca community participate in a nationwide day of protest against the recently passed Proposition 8 in California, which denies same-sex couples the right to marry|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
About 200 people attended the Ithaca protest, and people continued to join the group despite the rain that started 15 minutes into the event. Small children ran between the legs of those gathered, and students rubbed shoulders with gray-haired handholding couples — students seemed to be outnumbered by community members. Many in the crowd carried homemade signs proclaiming both serious and humorous sentiments, including “Ban Straight Divorce,” “Equality for All Families,” “2nd Class Citizen = No Taxes Paid.” One woman held a rainbow flag from a pole with a placard fixed to it: “This is NOT the White Flag of Surrender.”
A variety of speakers, both from Cornell and the Ithaca community, covered topics that ranged from personal to political. Sharice Davids law, co-president of Lambda, acted as the event’s emcee.
Jason Beekman law read an emotional testimonial about one marriage between an American and an Israeli national with a 12-year-old daughter from a previous relationship. A year and a half ago, the Israeli lost his job and with it his visa and right to live in the United States. He was forced to return to Israel with his daughter and is still there, awaiting the United States government’s approval of a new visa.
Beekman read a quote from the testimonial to end his speech that mixed the personal with the political. “I want legislators to approve another 50,000 visas. I want same-sex marriage. I want my family back.”
Another man who spoke was Jason Hungerford, a member of the Ithaca 50, a group of 25 Ithaca same-sex couples who sued Ithaca and the state department of health over the right to obtain marriage licenses.
“They call this the land of the free,” Hungerford said. “I don’t feel very free. I feel sad, I feel sick, and I feel angry.”
Hungerford spoke out against the Church of Latter Day Saints, which was one of the major backers of Proposition 8 in California, and stressed the necessity for a separation of church and state.
“Let me have my civil marriage. And I will let you decide who you marry in your church.”
Perhaps the best-received speech of the day came from Nathan Shinagawa ’05, an elected legislator representing the 4th District of Tompkins County. Shinagawa made parallels between the struggle for civil rights and rights for illegal immigrants with the current struggle for gay and lesbian rights. He told the crowd to continue to push for change in the courts by putting pressure on their politicians.
“Progress doesn’t happen if you’re quiet,” he said. Shinagawa ended with a call and response chant that he repeated to the crowd. Shinagawa yelled, “There ain’t no power like the power of the people, ’cuz the power of the people don’t stop,” and the crowd then shouted back “Say what?” and the chant repeated.
Kathleen Jercich ’10, one of a handful of Cornell undergraduate students in the crowd, said she had come to the protest for several reasons.
“I couldn’t be happy on Election Night knowing people are being treated as second class citizens,” she said. “It breaks my heart.”
In response to questions of whether a protest was even relevant in a state that so far has not expressly banned same-sex marriage, Hungerford replied, “I think this is not just about California, this is about New York and really the whole country. This is not just about being gay … your rights cannot just be stripped away. [This protest] brings attention to the fact that it could happen here. I’m hoping people who maybe were not engaged before will think twice about it.” Although the protest was hosted by a Cornell group, the event did not have the same crowd attracted by some rallies organized during the lead-up to the election.
Even Graham grad said he thought the issue had not received the attention from Cornell’s liberals that, for example, the push to elect Barrack Obama had received because Proposition 8 only affects a specific slice of the population.
“People are not typically motivated to incite any sort of change when it doesn’t affect their lives,” he said. “As liberal as Cornell is, it’s a shame people are unaware how certain things can affect people who have different perspectives from them.”
While most people on the Commons appeared in support of the protestors, or at least had no problem with them, a group of young men shouted derisively during one of the speakers, and one man shouted “Jesus loves you faggots,” as he walked by.
The protestors observed a moment of silence at 2:00 p.m. to remember the rights lost by the passage of the propositions. As people started to move away following the last speaker and final words from the leaders of Lambda, one woman in the crowd pulled out a megaphone and led an impromptu parade around the Commons. The group of marchers waved their signs and chanted together “Black, white, gay, straight, let’s not discriminate.”