Talk about change.
When Californians go to the polls in a little more than a week we’ll be voting on one bit of change that is more than just a presidential campaign’s hopeful rhetoric. If things go the way I hope they will (and some polls suggest they may), voters in the Golden State will reject a ballot measure—Proposition 8—which calls for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
The state whose cultural innovations include the excesses of Hollywood , the flakiness of beach culture, and the stoned, naked hippies who frolicked in the redwood forest of my childhood is contemplating a puritanical stand for traditional marriage. It’s not the first time either. In March of 2000, by a margin of 61.4% to 38.6%, California voters approved a ballot measure—Proposition 22—that forbade same-sex marriage (thus reminding the world that California, that hotbed of countercultural flakiness, also is both the adopted home of Ronald Reagan and the birthplace of Richard Nixon. It turns out that the state has a red streak a mile wide).
Proposition 22 was a simple amendment to California law which, eight years after its enactment, the California Supreme Court found to be discriminatory—and therefore unconstitutional. Now opponents of same-sex marriage have placed Proposition 8 on November’s ballot, hoping to change the state constitution such that the legal privileges and protections of marriage are limited to straight couples.
Activists on both sides of the issue tend to agree that if Proposition 8 fails, legal same sex marriage will be established as an unassailable right in California and—before too long—across the United States as well.
I have no way of knowing what will happen with Proposition 8 come November—polls are mixed and the tea leaves are muddled—but change has occurred. I have seen progress in the little corner of California where I live and work, and for that I am grateful.
Eight years ago I made my radio debut denouncing Proposition 22. It was a two minute opinion piece on KQED FM in San Francisco, the nation’s largest NPR affiliate. Hundreds of thousands of listeners heard me say that if Gays and Lesbians wanted to get hitched it was no threat to my marriage or any other marriage with which I was acquainted. It was a fairly novel thing back then for a clergyman to be defending same sex marriage, and in a very real way I felt as if I were risking my job by doing so. Members of my congregation got upset. Christians from around the San Francisco Bay Area called and emailed me to assure me that I was going to hell.
This time around things are different. Just last Sunday a woman in my church stopped by my office before worship to ask why our congregation’s name was not on a list of gay-friendly, anti-8 churches published in that morning’s paper. She wasn’t the first member of my congregation to come out in opposition to Proposition 8.
Over the summer, just before a wedding ceremony at a golf course, the father of the bride grabbed my arm and asked if I supported “gay marriage.”
“Yes,” I said praying for an easy way to steer the conversation toward baseball or the price of oil—anything to avoid an argument about the definition of marriage with this relative stranger, just minutes before his daughter’s nuptials.
“Well good!” he said. “It’s long past time we let people marry whoever they want to.”
A few weeks later an older straight couple visited my church because they’d heard our music program was excellent. “The music is good,” the told me, “but would you be willing to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony?”
These are conversations I cannot imagine having had ten years ago.
There are many ways to gauge social progress, and I’m not sure that changed attitudes in a smallish Presbyterian congregation on the eastern edge of Silicon Valley is the most accurate measure of societal progress, but it is one measure, and its hopeful.
Change seems to be in the air. Thank God.