Wednesday 5 November 2008

Amidst the joy, a civil rights defeat

We have overcome, reads a banner in the park in Chicago.

The election of Barack Obama would be a historic change in American politics in so many ways even were he not the first black President of the United States. But his own speech captured well how the end of one story marks a new beginning - stating this was not the delivery of change but the opportunity to do so.

Change happens. But change is still needed. So let nobody decide that there are - as Jimmy Porter claimed in Look Back in Anger half a century ago - that "There aren't any good, brave causes left".

Sadly, proof we did not need has been supplied by the ugly and polarising campaign over proposition 8 in California, which looks as though it is going to be passed by a narrow margin, banning same sex marriage in California.

Andrew Sullivan - the sanest and most articulate conservative voice in America in recent years - is among 16,000 people to face the shocking prospect of having his marriage voted on and voted out retrospectively by popular vote.

And the exit polls show both a generational and a race divide: with over two thirds of black voters on the wrong side of this argument about equality and civil rights, and all other ethnic groups in favour.

But, as Sullivan writes, even defeat must become a setback on the longer road to equality.

I sure haven't lost hope on this. But I will say this, whatever happens. We will win this in the end. We must never let popular votes affect our own internal sense of our worth, our equality, our dignity as human beings. Our marriages are real; all that is at issue is whether a majority will recognize them in law. The next generation already does. We shall overcome. Do not be discouraged. But we may still win.

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