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Preserve independence by voting down Proposition 8

Today I’m shedding the more impersonal “authoritative” voice of one of my typical editorials: Proposition 8 means something more personal to me. It directly affects my rights. As such, I want to make a more direct appeal to try to convince Barstow residents to vote against Proposition 8.

Small, modestly conservative towns like Barstow know what it’s like to feel powerless in the face of the majority. We have little control over the state’s electoral votes — our major cities dominate. Congressional and state districting has given us very little control over who represents us in either legislature. We can’t even get local representation in the California Assembly, due to population centers in Tulare County skewing the results in their favor.

So when a bunch of judges tossed out Proposition 22 — which blocked recognition of gay marriage — because they perceived a violation of the state’s constitution, that no doubt again made local conservative voters feel powerless. When one of the few ways Barstow residents can shape state policies is through ballot initiative votes, it stings.

I come to you now from a position of powerlessness. California’s gay residents will not determine the result of this vote. Much as Visalia — 200 miles away from us — gets to decide who represents us in Sacramento, you get to decide whether I can get married.

October marks six years that I’ve lived in Barstow. My urban friends don’t get it. I’ve had gay friends in places like New York and Los Angeles who don’t understand how I can enjoy life out in this community, this empire of red on electoral maps of the state (recent registration trends notwithstanding). But then, they don’t quite understand my libertarian leanings that well.

The engine of a small town is an interesting mix of tradition and independence. Tradition gives a town its identity and character and is slow to change. Just look at the conflict that arose over the idea of changing the date of the local Halloween parade. Independence is the consequence of that feeling of powerless, the understanding that the town is on its own. While it may get some special assistance from the state and federal government now and then, the town knows not to rely on anything more than the typical disbursements.

Understand the balance between these two motivations — tradition and independence — and a small town can be a wonderful place to live, regardless of age, gender, race or sexual orientation. You’re not going to change the nature of a small town; on the other hand, people here aren’t going to try to change you either. From a purely libertarian standpoint, I’m free to live my life in Barstow in ways I could not in a place like West Hollywood. I’m often critical of government demands on our lives, but the City of Barstow’s intrusions are a mere nuisance compared to what people experience in large cities.

There’s one significant barrier, however: marriage. Here, tradition and independence have come into conflict. Allowing same-sex marriage changes a tradition. Forbidding same-sex marriage denies gay couples their independence, the right to define their relationships the way they choose.

But this conflict doesn’t have to be defined in these terms. The fear among opponents of gay marriage is that they will lose their own independence and control over their own traditions, their faith and their values. Religious leaders who don’t support gay marriage fear the government coming in and forcing them to recognize these relationships that violate their traditions.

I understand, and I wish I could say with confidence that no gay couple would ever consider such an effort, but not everybody respects the traditions and independence of others. No doubt, somebody will try.

But we should not be afraid of extending new liberties to others out of the mistaken belief that we will ultimately lose our own. In the event that some couple, any couple, attempts to force any unwilling church to marry them, I would stand among those who side with the church. We do not grant new freedoms to some by taking them away from others.

Consider Visalia and Barstow again: What does Visalia know about Barstow’s needs from the state? Could the average Tulare County resident even find Barstow on the map? How does it feel to depend on people you don’t know to decide who should represent you? How does it feel to be powerless?

And now reverse it. Would you want the responsibility to decide what is best for 100,000 people 200 miles away? I hope your answer would be no. I would hope that you would not want to interfere with this community’s independence and need for self-determination.

That is all I ask of you. You have the power to control an important part of my future. You can control my independence. Is that something you’re truly comfortable with?

I ask you to vote in favor of our tradition of independence. Vote no on Proposition 8.


Scott Shackford is the editor in chief of the Desert Dispatch. He has donated $100 to the No on 8 campaign. Reach him at 256-4104 or

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