This morning I sent this message to my family members who live in California and Florida, as well as to my friends.
Dear family and friends,
Happy Divali! I’m happy to be spending the holiday with my Michigan family this year. I hope you are all well.
I am writing this especially to those of you who are or might be registered voters in California (or Florida). I wanted to let you know the personal importance for me of one of the ballot measures, Proposition 8, which eliminates the right to marry for me and thousands of other Californians. (In Florida, it is Amendment 2.)
In researching my book, Leaving India, I learned about the status of our people in South Africa in the early 1900s, and Mahatma Gandhi‘s movement on behalf of Indian rights. One of the crystallizing moments of his time in South Africa was when the South African court decided that the marriages of Hindus, Muslims, and other peoples were not “valid” because they were not conducted in the Christian manner. Overnight, many thousands of Hindu and Muslim marriages were deemed invalid, and thousands of wives were at risk of being deported.
That court’s decision was based on pure prejudice. White South Africans thought Indians were barbaric, barely people at all, and certainly not deserving of human rights. They believed that, because we were different from them and they did not understand us very well, our traditions and feelings and choices did not “count.” Mahatma Gandhi was a young man, but he others organized the Indians of South Africa to protest in the streets against this injustice. And eventually, these protests were successful. The right to be married was restored.
This was among the beginnings of the satyagraha movement, which eventually helped lead to India’s independence.
If Gandhi and our other ancestors recognized that the right to be married was so fundamental, and that the attempt to take it away is rooted in prejudice, I hope we can also see that today.
There are many different ways to approach the question of marriage, and everyone has his or her own beliefs about it. It may be that we don’t understand others’ lives very well. But I believe that you and I come from a tradition of tolerance, of accepting that each person has his or her own karma, and that even if we don’t understand, we can accept that every one of us is a spark of divine light. So before we make a decision, perhaps we can put ourselves in another’s shoes:
- Imagine if your spouse was in the hospital and you were not allowed to visit him or her.
- Imagine if your marriage license was suddenly taken away, and your children were suddenly assigned at random to one parent, with the other parent not having any rights to visit them or even pick them up from school.
- Imagine if your family tried to buy a house together, and wasn’t allowed to because you were not considered legally a family.
- Imagine if your spouse passed away and you were denied all pension benefits, life insurance, inheritance, custody, and even the right to decide what kind of funeral and final rites would be conducted to put him or her to rest.
This is what could happen to thousands of Californians who are *already* married, if Proposition 8 passes. In California, we are blessed to have the right to marry for all. This is guaranteed by the state Constitution. This ballot initiative is an attempt to manipulate you, the voters, into overturning this fundamental right. From what I can tell, it is not motivated by anything but hatred and fear. Our desi community strongly values marriage and families. It takes a lot of hate and fear and misunderstanding to work so hard to take away family rights like the ones I mentioned above from caring, loving, committed couples and families.
I hope you will join me in voting NO on Proposition 8 in California on November 4. (Or Amendment 2 in Florida.) Please feel free to forward this email to others, and to ask me more questions or talk to me about it if you wish.
Sending you love and light, and saal mubarak (happy new year) wishes,