For those of us who are gay, the passage of California’s Prop 8 that banned same-sex civil marriage has caused a great deal of pain. Do most Californians really hate us? Most Americans? Why?
We're looking for a message.
Instead, we need to look at the messengers.
Many of the biggest financial supporters of the initiative have disturbing, extremist histories when it comes to issues involving sex and sexuality. Some have supported calls for the extermination of gay people, while others have been involved in sexual crimes involving children.
These are people with serious hang-ups when it comes to sex.
I personally encountered these views when my first book was published. My novel SoMa explores the continuum of sexual orientation. Set in San Francisco's anything-goes South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood, both straight and gay sexuality get equal treatment. That's the point of the book.
It's a view some people can’t tolerate. I've received anonymous gay-hate comments on Amazon and "review" websites like GoodReads.com.
Of course, any person in the public eye is subject to the whims of bigots and racists with access to keyboards. Nameless slurs are part of the static of the internet. Just look at the Rants and Raves section of Craigslist if you feel like wallowing in the web’s worst verbal sewer.
But sometimes hate reaches beyond cyberspace.
I've received death threats. The most recent was this past October. The management at YouTube took action against a longtime member after that person found videos about my novel and left a couple of "disgusting faggot" comments, including one that called for me to be shot. The person had a neo-Nazi stylized homepage.
With reactions like that to a book, it's no surprise that some would want to take their views to the ballot box.
I don't know the identities of those who left homophobic slurs on book reviews, or the person who publicly called for me to be murdered – they weren’t brave enough to identify themselves. But due to open records laws, we do know who was behind Prop 8.
The Roman Catholic group The Knights of Columbus and followers directed by the Mormon Church put more than $21 million dollars into “Yes on 8,” mostly in the form of a misleading advertising campaign aimed at scaring voters.
Knowing they wouldn’t get far in live-and-let-live California if the initiative was decided on its actual merits, campaign strategists decided to lie to voters and claim that what was really at issue was education. If Prop 8 didn’t pass, they warned, kids would be taught about gay sex and marriage in public school, against their parents’ wishes. That wasn’t true, but TV stations are required by law to run all political commercials, even when the messages are filled with lies.
When the education scare tactic still wasn’t enough, the “Yes on 8” campaign created ads that used Barack Obama's image in mailers and his voice (a quote used out of context) in prerecorded “robo” telemarketing phone calls, claiming he urged everyone to vote in favor of the initiative. That's also a lie. Obama was against Prop 8.
The sad truth is that both the Mormon and Catholic churches have troubling pasts when it comes to sex. It's a subject that makes them behave badly. Yes, it even makes them lie to their followers and the public.
Both churches have lengthy histories involving pedophilia. The cover-up by the Catholic Church of sexual predator priests went on for generations. Even though mainstream LDS members now reject the practice, the Mormon tradition of marrying underage girls to older men is a problem the church still can't seem to shake, as witnessed by the recent FLDS scandal in Texas .
No one is saying all Catholics and Mormons are child molesters. But with such despicable histories, these are not churches that should claim any sort of high ground when it comes to marriage or sexual morality.
There's also the company they keep. The Catholic Church and the Mormons didn't fund this initiative alone. They had help from Howard F. Ahmanson, the reclusive heir to a banking fortune. According to an investigation by Max Blumenthal that was published online by The Daily Beast on the eve of the election, Ahmanson gave $900,000 as one of the main proponents of Prop 8. Ahmanson was a close personal and financial supporter of the late Rousas John Rushdoony, a religious hatemonger who advocated for the mandatory stoning deaths of homosexuals.
These are views and behavior out of step with mainstream America. Had voters known who was behind Prop 8, would have they have still sided with these people?
I don't think so. Having spent years researching and writing a book about sex, my conclusion is that most people don't have hang-ups about what other people do in the privacy of their own relationships. Most folks know what it means when someone “doth protest too much” about someone else’s sexuality.
Thirty years ago California had another gay hate measure on the ballot: Proposition 6. Supported by the infamous Anita Bryant and other religious extremists, the initiative called for a witch-hunt against schoolteachers who might be gay. Proponents played their bigotry right out in the open. There’s a great scene in the current film “Milk” where the bill was put up to public debate, and revealed for all its stupidity and intolerance. Proposition 6 lost miserably at the polls.
But in this election year Proposition 8 didn’t get such a public debate. Can you imagine a televised face-off between Ahmanson and someone, say, like Ellen DeGeneres? Barney Frank? Anderson Cooper?
Instead of having an honest discussion that would have exposed the true motives behind the initiative, proponents of the now-nicknamed “Prop H8” hid in the shadows, writing checks to pay for TV commercials and mailers that simply lied to voters. A true vetting of the issue was not in their best interest.
No, most Americans don't hate gay people. That’s not the lesson of Prop 8. The reality is that a small, well-funded, mostly out-of-state group with a distorted view manipulated millions of voters with lies. They used their bully pulpits to try to push their considerable hang-ups onto others.
Now that people are realizing what was done, they’re pushing back.