Michael Dearing, a Stanford University professor who worked for Meg Whitman as a senior vice president at eBay, posted the following note to his friends on Facebook about Whitman's run for the governor's seat in California. It has since circulated widely among current and former eBay employees concerned about Whitman's publicly announced opposition against gay marriage and support for California's Propos
Why I Won't Vote for Meg
Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 12:01pm
OK, here goes [cue video of horse going out of barn] ...
I respect Meg as a business leader, and I will always be grateful for the opportunities she gave me at eBay. But I can't support a candidate who supported Prop 8. For those who don't know, Prop 8 amended the California constitution to prevent millions of Californians who happen to be gay from enjoying the Supreme-Court-affirmed right to civil marriage -- the same civil right enjoyed by straight couples.
Gay or straight, Prop 8 is about the majority taking a civil right away from an unpopular minority. Meg's Yes on 8 vote says that was a good idea. Given her commitment to freedom and pursuit of happiness when it comes to economic rights -- which I share and love about her -- I am mystified why Meg thinks its OK for the government to make and enforce rules that un-level the civil rights field for a minority group. It bothered me so much that I wrote to her, urging her to reconsider her opinion on all this. I did get a reply, so that was good. I don't think she is going to change her view though.
Lately, I've had a bunch of conversations about Meg's Yes on 8 position with friends, colleagues, and even a few strangers. I have heard first- and second-hand the reasons why some folks are supporting Meg in light of her Yes on 8 position. For a few weeks, I've been mustering my courage to address out loud a few of those arguments that have been made to me and others by folks in her campaign. So here goes -- the arguments I've heard are in bold, followed by my thoughts:
"Meg's position on gay marriage is the same as President Obama's."
This isn't true. Obama did not support Prop 8. He spoke out against it; watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/v/gcSdwF39e-Q
While Obama said that he considers marriage between a man and a woman, he rejected the idea of amending the constitution to take rights away from folks. I know there's a broad range of opinions on gay rights, but I think it's a big step to go from disagreeing with the Supreme Court on this, all the way to picking up a big pen and rewriting the constitution to the disadvantage of an unpopular minority to "fix" it.
"Don't be a single-issue voter, be practical. California is a wreck financially -- economic crisis, budget mess, unemployment -- if we don't fix all that, the single issue of gay marriage won't matter."
I think of it more as a question of basic values than as a "single-issue." Why do we have to put even the debate about civil rights of a minority group on the D-list because times are tough? Why should civil rights -- or even a healthy debate about civil rights -- be postponed until unemployment, the economic crisis, or the state budget are fixed? The argument reminds me of President Bush's policies on suspects' and prisoners' civil rights in the war on terror: "it's too dangerous a time to get a warrant or to swear off waterboarding." Or, more recently, President Obama's odd p.o.v. on corporate governance, markets and contracts: "it's too crazy a time to let boards do their jobs or to let some contracts be enforced."
I can't accept the idea that any of my rights -- economic, social, civil, whatever -- are luxury items, only affordable in good times. Maybe it's because I am a member of at least two minority groups that I know of; maybe it's because I read too much Ayn Rand in college. :)
"Meg fully supports equal rights through civil unions for same-sex couples on survivorship, visitation, benefits -- all the stuff that matters. Why fight over the word 'marriage' which is really a religious term that's sacred to many?"
For some people, marriage is the name of a religious rite. But the word has heavy duty civil meaning too. You go to city hall to get a marriage license. You state marital status routinely when doing government business. Judges marry people. In daily life, "marriage" is a secular, civil concept and it has been for a really long time.
I think I remember from junior high American History that "separate but equal" isn't equal. Marriage is the first-class word. To me, "civil union" is a neutered, almost Orwellian label that has the effect -- whether intended or not -- of formalizing second class citizenship for gay couples. I know Meg would never have supported renaming "CEO" something else once women started getting the job. The idea of renaming marriage as civil union when it includes same-sex couples is just as silly. Hopefully, in the near future, more people will see it that way.
I guess my overall problem with these arguments is that they don't actually explain why Meg was Yes on 8. It's a distraction tactic to say, "The President thinks so too," or "that's not what's important right now," or "let's just call it something else." I have heard from people who are in a position to know that Meg's view on marriage is based on deeply held, personal convictions. That's cool; mine too. I'd much rather hear more about those convictions than the other stuff. What specifically does Meg think about gay people and their relationships? How do those beliefs connect to the constitutional amendment we got courtesy of Prop 8?
I know a bunch of people do not see gay marriage as the same as straight marriage. I get that. But many of those same people, the President included, made the choice that Prop 8 was wrong -- it took a Supreme-Court-recognized civil right away from a minority that is unpopular in many circles, and hated in some. Meg's Yes on 8 vote says to all of us, "I like that answer."
Having said all that, if you do decide to support Meg for governor and you were also against Prop 8, please don't let yourself be defined as Yes on 8. Please speak up actively on your point of view. The gay people in your life will look at your support of Meg and wonder where you stand on equal rights -- don't let them wonder, just tell them that you either agree with her or that you disagree with her. But please don't tell your friends that the President agreed with Meg on gay marriage and Prop 8 -- he didn't. And please don't tell your friends that it's a single issue that has to wait until after the practical stuff is resolved. It isn't, and it doesn't have to.
I thought a long time about whether to do this. I decided to write and post it because I know that there is a big outreach to many of you happening right now to support Meg for governor. I am not a protesting type of person. I've never marched or made a political poster in my life unless you count running for student council (and those were good posters). But I feel like there are a few times in your life when you have a chance to say something about an issue that matters to you. I guess this is one of those for me. I did reach out to her directly first a few months ago -- she listened but disagreed, but I am glad to have had the chance to do that -- so now I feel like it's worth talking to more people about this. Since that takes a few more than 140 characters, and since postage stamps are going up, here we are.
No matter who you vote for or where you are on this issue, thanks for reading this and thinking about it.