Most of the world’s attention is focused on Barack Obama today. I can certainly understand why, but I’ve been pre-occupied with something else today, proposition 8 in California. The proposition was to add an article to the Californian Constitution to revoke civil rights for gay people. It passed, not by much, but it passed. The Californian constitution now discriminates against gay people. In the US that’s not a first. But there is something very different about the vote on proposition 8, in CA gay people COULD marry. They HAD rights. They fought long and hard, but they had won the basic civil rights that regular people take for granted. And today, over half of the voters in California choose to revoke those rights, to take basic civil rights away from their fellow Californians, their fellow Americans and their fellow human beings. To make an effort to actively take away rights from your fellow human beings is a hell of a lot different to failing to grant rights in the first place, or even to taking steps to make it harder to grant them in future. Failing to move forwards is sad, but moving backwards is tragic.

Make no mistake by the way, the people who voted to strip basic civil rights from gay people have caused real and genuine hurt to their fellow human beings. Of those people who voted yes to proposition 8 I’m sure the majority were married. They get to go home to their partner and reap all the legal benefits of marriage. If their partner falls ill, they get to see them in hospital, if things go very bad and a decision has to be made about life support, they get to make that decision, after the death of one partner the other gets inheritance rights and pension rights. All simple things, but all things that these self-same people who snatched them away from gay people today, would never tolerate being taken from them.

This got me thinking, what kind of person makes it their business to deprive others of the basic rights they cherish and demand for themselves? What kind of person sets out to harm others? The easy answer is to assume that a little over half of the population of California are evil heartless gits who take pleasure from causing pain. That’s the easy answer. It’s not the right answer though. The people who voted yes to proposition 8 are regular family people who love their partners and their kids, are probably great neighbours, and are probably religious people who believe in a message of love.

Yet they can hurt others so callously. Why? The only conclusion is that gay people are still seen as being sub-human to some extent. Gay people are “them”, they are not “us”. It’s very easy to do terrible things to people who you see as being below you, or even just different to you. If you don’t believe me, take a look at world history. In the US you don’t need to go back too far in the past to find people being denied their civil rights simply because of the colour of their skin. We’re no better in Europe, we just tried to annihilate an entire race! The message is the same though, it’s easy to hurt “them”.

The obvious solution is that gay people have to become a part of “us”. We have to be visible in society, and we have to stop hiding away. We need to engage with our neighbours, and not hide who we really are. We can’t keep locking ourselves in the closet, keeping our heads down, and keeping our love lives secret from the world. We love just like everyone else does, and all we want is the same basic rights everyone else has. When your child, or your sibling, or your next door neighbour, or your friends are openly gay it becomes impossible to view gay people as “them”. When that happens only the truly heartless and evil will be able to discriminate against gay people and cause pain to their own children, siblings, neighbours, and friends.

If you’re reading this and you voted yes on proposition 8, you need to understand that you are causing pain and suffering to your fellow human beings. If you personally believe being gay is a sin, don’t be gay. Choosing not to condone or support or take part in gay marriage is no reason to enforce your beliefs on everyone. That’s what happens in theocracies, places like Iran. They are not nice places, and substituting your religion for theirs doesn’t make it any more right!

If you’re gay and reading this, you need to understand that the only way things will change is if we stand up and live our lives out in the open. There’s no need to scream that you’re gay from every roof-top, but stop hiding, start living like every other couple out there. Take part in society, as a couple, just like regular people, because that’s exactly what we are.