What a week it’s been! It’s taken me a few days to process it all. First, Barack Obama became our president-elect, earning more than 65 million votes, the largest for a Democratic candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Second, the Democratic Party increased its majorities in both houses of Congress. And finally, three states — most notably California — voted to enshrine discrimination and prejudice against gays and lesbians into their state constitutions. The first two were certainly occasions for celebration. For me, the third almost takes away all of the joy from the first two victories.

I spent most of the day on Tuesday in Portsmouth visiting Shawnee State University. I got home around 5:30. After the past two presidential elections, I was afraid to get my hopes up. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want John McCain to become president after the terrible campaign he had waged, but you never know what’s going to happen on election day.

It was with both great hope and great fear, therefore, that PJ and I started watching the election coverage. It was especially frustrating that the media wouldn’t call any important states — Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida — for Obama. We were relieved when Pennsylvania was called. That meant that McCain’s chances were greatly diminished. Then the results for Ohio came in and everyone knew that it was basically over. I can’t even begin to explain how joyous that realization was! We had won!

I haven’t always been a Barack Obama supporter. In the primaries I supported Hillary. I liked the Clinton years, and I thought that she would make a great president. When the campaign first started, though, I had hoped that Obama would run. While I like Hillary, I worried that America didn’t really want to return to the past. I feared that the Republican Party had effectively tarnished the country’s memories of the Clinton years and reduced them to a blow job in the Oval Office. I thought that Obama’s effort to turn the page on the past and make a new beginning would be a better platform for winning back the White House.

During the long primary campaign I kept going back and forth about whom I was supporting. What ultimately caused me to support Hillary over Obama was his failure to provide real leadership on gay rights issues. When he allowed anti-gay, African American ministers to speak at his rallies without overtly and pointedly challenging their statements, he lost my support. I voted for Hillary and contributed to her campaign.

As we all know, Hillary ultimately lost the nomination. She ran a poorly organized campaign and didn’t really find her voice and message until too late to win. Obama would be our nominee. I was initially disappointed when Obama didn’t choose Hillary as his running mate. I think she would have been great as vice president, but I also understood why he didn’t make this choice. Choosing Hillary would inevitably make the Clintons the story. No one trying to become president wants to be overshadowed by his running mate and her husband. (John McCain should have been so smart!)

So, I watched the convention to see how far I would go in supporting Obama. I wouldn’t ever vote for the Republican candidate nor would I stay home and not vote. But I had to decide whether I would contribute to his campaign in someway. I loved his performance at the convention. He definitely won me over. (I also thought Hillary proved why she should have been on the ticket; she really would have been great!)

During the course of the campaign I even managed to forget my earlier unhappiness about Obama’s failure to lead on GLBT issues. By the time he was elected, I was teary eyed like every other Democrat. Watching his speech on Tuesday night was amazing. I was so proud to be an American. It felt that the words of “America the Beautiful,” a song we had to sing in grade school a lot, were finally coming true:

O beautiful for spacious skies
For amber waves of grain
For purple mountains majesty
Above the fruited plains

America, America
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea

Brotherhood and grace were shining from sea to sea.

And then, on Wednesday morning, we got the results of the California initiative to ban gay marriage. While I don’t live in California, and PJ and didn’t rush out there to get a marriage license, the passage of Prop 8 nevertheless hit us both really hard.

I know we gays aren’t the first minority group to suffer from mass discrimination and prejudice in this country and that we probably won’t be the last, but it so overwhelmingly gut wrenching to be reminded that your fellow citizens don’t see you as equal, as brothers, as worthy of basic human rights. The passage of this and other anti-gay initiatives this year reminds us all that gays and lesbians are not fully a part of the “Yes We Can” joy of the Obama election (rather we’re told, “No You Can’t”).  We are still not welcome in the brotherhood of American life.

As I read some of the press coverage in the next couple of days, my sadness only got worse. Apparently turnout was not high among gays and our allies in the most progressive parts of California. Furthermore, significant majorities of African and Latino Americans voted for the ban; the majority of Caucasians voted against it. And finally, the proponents of Proposition 8 knew how to manipulate these populations to vote for the initiative. Here’s what the L.A. Times reported:

“We thought it would go this way,” Proposition 8 co-chair Frank Schubert said. “We had 100,000 people on the streets today. We had people in every precinct, if not knocking on doors, then phoning voters in every precinct. We canvassed the entire state of California, one on one, asking people face to face how do they feel about this issue.

“And this is the kind of issue people are very personal and private about, and they don’t like talking to pollsters, they don’t like talking to the media, but we had a pretty good idea how they felt and that’s being reflected in the vote count.”

What I get from this is that they were confident that the majority of Californians remain privately homophobic and anti-gay regardless of their public silence on these issues. I wonder if the same is true for the rest of the country. It’s difficult to walk around thinking that the majority of the people you meet might very well be like this, ready to vote against my rights as an American by quietly stepping into the poll booth and simply darkening in a circle or touching a screen.

Now that a couple of days have passed, I feel somewhat less depressed about these votes. Watching Obama’s press conference on Friday reminds me how great it is to have a president who can think and talk with authority and intelligence. I’m going to enjoy watching him on t.v. instead of turning the channel whenever the president appears. I also can’t help but hope that Obama will go beyond simply including gays in his speeches. It was, after all, his own words against gay marriage that proponents of the ban included in their ads.

It doesn’t really matter that Obama came out against the measure; his words helped it pass. What will he do to take back those words? What will he say to the 20,000 Americans who woke up on Wednesday morning to find that their marriages were so cruelly, so shamefully, and so homophobically shat upon by their fellow citizens? What will he do to make sure that gays and lesbians are really included in “Yes We Can” in the future?

For me, this will be a key element in judging Obama’s presidency. I am proud that Americans have rejected so much prejudice and division in electing him president. Will he help us take the next step to accept gays and lesbians fully? If he does, it will truly be a great thing for all Americans that he was elected. If not, history will appaud the advances we have made in the last few decades but will also record this failure.

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