Marriage – Gay Grassroots Style

I had conversations with four recently married same-sex couples during the first week of January. There were two lesbian couples, one from the Sacramento area (Davis) and the other from West Hollywood. The two gay couples were from the Bay Area and Orange County.

Along with my spouse, we represented five of the over 18,000 same-sex couples who got married in California between June and the first four days of November 2008. Now this right/privilege for same-sex marriage has been halted with the passage of Prop 8 and the status of those of us who were married, when it was legal, is now unclear. (This is a clear example of “majority rule.” The majority takes away rights from a minority. A great day in America, huh?) Also participating was a gay couple from Edmonton, Canada, who married under Canadian law over three years ago.

All of the California couples had voted for Barack Obama for President. This, in spite of Obama’s declaration that marriage is the domain of opposite-sex couples, i.e., one man and one woman. To his credit and also that of Vice-President elect Joseph Biden, both had voiced opposition to Prop 8.

Said Barack in 2008,

“I am proud to join with and support the LGBT community in an effort to set our nation on a course that recognizes LGBT Americans with full equality under the law. That is why I support extending fully equal rights and benefits to same-sex couples under both state and federal law. That is why I support repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and the passage of laws to protect LGBT Americans from hate crimes and employment discrimination. And that is why I oppose the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution, and similar efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution or those of other states.”

The Canadian couple, John and Chet, were mystified over the uproar in our country over same-sex marriage. “What’s wrong with you Americans? You go half-way around the world to supposedly bring freedom to the oppressed Iraqi people, but in your own country citizens can be denied equal rights.” They were especially amazed at the religious influence in the election, asking, “And when did you Americans become such good born-again Christians?”

Elizabeth, a health administrator, and Sophie, a school vice-principal, who are exploring having children, were very disappointed that the No on 8 campaign run by Equality for All, did not use Obama’s and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger’s opposition to Prop 8 in their televised ad material. This stands in stark contrast to the defeat, in 1978 of Prop 6, the right-wing’s first California attempt to derail full equality for gay men and lesbians. That campaign, dramatized by Sean Penn in the recently released film “Milk,” carried dramatic images and quotes by President Carter and Governor Jerry Brown and candidate for President, Ronald Reagan. They each called for the defeat of Prop 6 which would have denied gay and lesbian folk employment by any California school system. Prop 6 lost by over 1 million votes. 2008’s Prop 8 lost by 600,000 votes.

Chris, a Northern California wine executive, and Don, an event planner, were not sure that Prop 8 could be stopped, but got married anyway. They had both been surprised and a bit bewildered when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom first announced that same-sex marriages were going to be performed in San Francisco – in opposition to State law. “Cart before the horse,” declared Peter. “Who was ready for that to happen? Certainly not me and my friends. DOMA (the Federal Defense of Marriage Act) needed to be rescinded first. Then there would have been greater legal and moral support for same-sex marriage.”

As it turned out, Mayor Newsom’s gamble and, indeed his image and arrogant statement from last May 15, the day the California state Supreme Court overturned 2000’s Prop. 22 ban on gay marriage, that “This door’s wide open now, it’s going to happen, whether you like it or not,” was used extensively and successfully by the Yes on 8 campaign. Straight Mayor Newsom became the 2008 poster boy for the “militant gay agenda.”

Conservative Bart, a high-school principal and his partner Gary, a school teacher, both employed in Orange County school systems, were silent regarding the possibility that their recent marriage could be voided. Both experienced great family support and acceptance for their union. Pushed for an opinion, they felt that California Attorney General Jerry Brown’s gambit to overturn Prop 8 on grounds of it being in conflict with the California Constitution’s guarantee of equal treatment, was a solid and logical argument. That, after all, was the Court’s logic for overturning Prop 22, which banned same-sex marriage.

Further, neither could understand why fundamental religion was being given such a solid footing in the political arena in 2008/2009. They were especially disappointed in Barack’s invitation of Pastor Rick Warren to give the high-profile invocation at his January 20 inauguration. “First he (Barack) asks for his blessing when the Presidential campaign first began, and now he wants his blessing as he begins his term of President. What’s next, an appointment as Secretary of Christianity?”

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Finally, attorney Jeri and real estate agent Kris from West Los Angeles, voiced strong hopes that Prop 8 would be overturned. “First of all, it’s going to be a legal nightmare,” voiced Jeri. “Contracts have been entered into. Mortgages have been signed and homes have been purchased. Families have been started and pregnancies have ensued. Are they going to refund the marriage fees? No one will be able to tell from the marriage licenses whether or not the names listed belong to females or males. Look at our names, male or female? Just from these standpoints, the possibility of lawsuits is endless.”

Kris chimed in, “Look, I deal with couples all of the time. No one wants to deny anyone their rights. Get the church out of it. Equalize the status of same-sex unions. If straight couples are choking over the word ‘marriage,’ then that can certainly be dealt with. But, in the end, this Prop 8 constitutional amendment is juvenile, retro and hateful.”

carl-matthes.jpgGay men and lesbians were passionately involved in the campaigns of many Democratic candidates. A new era is dawning in America. When same-sex couples were given the right to marry last June, we had our first taste of real equality under the law. We now know what hope and change feels like. The California Supreme Court opened the closet door and 18,000 couples rushed out. There’s no going back. These are our lives we’re talking about.

Carl Matthes

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