Proposition 8 stirs little public outcry at University
The proposition, which passed with 52 percent of the votes cast in favor, amended the California state constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and woman.
Members of the campus LGBT community expressed deep discontent with the outcome of the referendum, but many said they felt that there wasn’t much they could do to make a difference.
Proposition 8 was discussed at a meeting of students and religious life leaders at the LGBT Center last Wednesday, but no protests or large-scale public events have been held on campus.
Chris Simpson ’09 said he is organizing a satirical campaign on Thursday that would ban freshmen from walking on campus sidewalks to parallel the injustice of the proposition.
“I think it’s a shame that there is so little debate taking place on a campus that is as well-informed as ours,” Simpson said in an e-mail urging students to participate.
Matt McMahon GS, an openly gay first-year architecture student who tried to organize a sit-in at the Nassau Street office of the National Organization for Marriage, the biggest funder of support for Proposition 8, said he has received few responses to his campaign.
He explained that he felt obligated to act because campus felt like a “radiant silence.”
“It led me [to be] disheartened about the state of LGBT affairs at Princeton,” said McMahon, who lived in New York City and was an undergraduate at Penn State. He said he was surprised to find that Princeton, which he had believed to be “a progressive liberal campus,” does not have more of an effect on the surrounding community.
“There’s not a single gay bar in town,” McMahon said. “It’s a bit troubling when Panera feels like the most gay-friendly place in town.”
David Walters ’11 said that he didn’t think there was much that Princeton students could contribute to overturning Proposition 8.
“Since there was a bigger national movement, [a Princeton protest] would have been small and not very effective,” Walters said. “Discussion ... is what really needs to happen. People are not very bothered by it, at least in my conversations with heterosexual friends.”
Walters said that he thought the University did not have a solid LGBT community, which made it more difficult to organize. “I’ve seen several e-mails [about] rallies and petitions but nothing big and public,” he said.
“Princeton is not the world’s most activist of campuses. Indeed, it’s known for being one of the least activist,” said Emily Rutherford ’12, another organizer of the sidewalk demonstration. She added that the protest is trying to “challenge that reputation.”
Rutherford, who is from California and spent the summer campaigning against Proposition 8, said she believes there hasn’t been much response at the University because the majority of students are not from California.
“If campus activism were the most important thing I wanted out of my college experience, I wouldn’t have come to Princeton,” she said. “It is very difficult to get Princeton students interested in the outside world, particularly when it’s a cause of a political nature or something that might not affect them personally.”
Politics professor Paul Frymer, who researches social movements, said the ideological makeup of the student body could be a partial explanation of the relative lack of activity surrounding Proposition 8 at Princeton.
“I don’t know why there hasn’t been a protest,” Frymer said. “I know there’s been outrage. I assume maybe at some point they will react.”
Yujhan Claros ’10, an LGBT peer educator who attended the discussion with the religious life leaders, said that many students expressed hope that Proposition 8 would be overturned by the California Supreme Court.
“We don’t have much we can do about California,” Claros said. “There isn’t a tangible thing we could do.”
The California Supreme Court has not yet decided if it will hear any of the several lawsuits challenging Proposition 8. Its chief justice is Ronald George ’61, a Wilson School alumnus who wrote the May 2008 opinion striking down California’s existing statutes limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples.
The California attorney general and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) — who opposed Proposition 8 — have both urged the California Supreme Court to revisit the issue of gay marriage and to do so quickly.
College students take action
Students at other universities, including Harvard, Yale, Penn, Georgetown, Brown and Stanford, have shown their dissatisfaction with Proposition 8 by joining public protests. Each of these schools had at least several dozen students participate in rallies.
Carel Ale’, a student at Yale Law School, organized an ad hoc rally with another Yale law student, Gabriela Rivera. They mainly used facebook.com, e-mail and posters around Yale’s campus and in New Haven to publicize their cause.
Ale’ explained that there was significant outrage among both LGBT and non-LGBT students at Yale and that the part of the success of the protest could be credited to students feeling “shaken out of complacency” by the event.
“There’s a lot of understanding that this is a private place but … because of the city we’re in, we’re exposed to a lot of the somber issues of society,” Ale’ said. “We can’t escape these issues.”
Ale’ and Rivera’s event drew participants from other nearby colleges, including Connecticut College, the University of New Haven and Wesleyan. Of the 300 people that showed up at the event, half were students, Ale’ said.
When asked about her impression of Princeton and that it had not had similar events, Ale’ said she was not surprised.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t think I consider [Princeton] an extraordinarily active community,” she said.
At Harvard, Elizabeth Hadaway attended a rally in Boston with other undergraduates. She said that out of the thousands of rally participants, she estimated about 30 were Harvard students.
“A threat to rights anywhere is a threat to rights everywhere,” Hadaway said. “I disagree with [Proposition] 8, and fighting for equal rights is a very real part of being American.”