Friday, March 27, 2009

Assemblymember Marty Block Defends Prop. 8 Stance

Explains to Queer Democrats Why He Wouldn’t Vote for an Anti-8 Resolution


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Recently elected California Assemblymember Marty Block appeared before the predominantly Queer San Diego Democratic Club at its regular meeting March 26 to explain his controversial refusal to vote for a resolution, H. R. 5, that sought to put the California State Assembly on record as urging the state supreme court to throw out Proposition 8. Along with openly Gay Los Angeles-area Assemblymember John Pérez — the first openly Queer person of color elected to the California legislature — Block spoke at the club meeting and made it clear that his opposition to the resolution was based on separation-of-powers principles and his belief that it’s wrong for the elected branches of government to tell the courts how to rule on a pending case.

California voters passed Proposition 8, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, on the same day — November 4, 2008 — as Block won his election and Barack Obama carried California by a 24 percent margin. Proposition 8, which was intended to reverse the California Supreme Court’s May 15, 2008 ruling interpreting the state constitution as requiring the legal recognition of same-sex marriages, passed statewide by a five-point margin. But the initiative carried Block’s district by a far more sweeping margin than the statewide one, with over 57 percent of the voters in favor — many of them African-Americans and Latinos who, though progressive on other issues, felt obliged by religious or social beliefs to reject same-sex marriage.

Some club members accused Block of not voting for the resolution in order to appease pro-8 voters in his district, and they staged a protest outside the meeting room with a person dressed as a duck to tell Block not to “duck” controversial issues involving the Queer community. Even the young club members who set up the refreshment table joined in the theme by offering cookies in the shape of ducks.

At the meeting, Block and Pérez were not allowed to give prepared statements. Instead they had to answer questions, first from the club’s board and then questions from the audience. The first question aimed at Block expressed the club’s anger at him for his vote against H. R. 5: “It is clear that you did not support our rights because of [fear of] political fallout from the 57 percent in your district who voted for Proposition 8.”

“The resolution is different from whether I support marriage equality” for same-sex couples, Block said. “I support marriage equality. I think this was a misguided resolution. I have not only been an attorney but also a judge, and it’s not a good thing for legislators to tell judges how to vote on a pending case.” He said the proper way for the legislature to express its views to the court on the Proposition 8 legal challenge was to file an amicus curiae [“friend of the court”] brief — and, he added, “I was one of the first to sign on to an amicus brief that said what Resolution 5 said but in an appropriate manner.”

Block was taken to task for mentioning in his letter to constituents explaining why he didn’t vote for H. R. 5 that Proposition 8 had passed in his district with 57 percent of the vote — a result he called “heartbreaking” — and Pérez said that one reason so many people of color voted for Proposition 8 (the measure did better among African-Americans and Latinos than it did among whites, though not by the whopping margins announced immediately after the election) was that the No on 8 campaign didn’t bother reaching out to them.

“My district voted overwhelmingly for Proposition 8, but it also elected me,” Pérez said. “That was because I went out and walked the district. We need to invest in coalition politics. Too many folks in the [No on 8] campaign didn’t understand that.”

Asked if he says different things to African-American and Latino constituents than he says to the Queer community on marriage equality and other Queer-rights issues, Block hotly denied it. He reminded the club that in the run-up to the November 4 election, “the newspapers in the African-American community all had big ads saying, ‘Vote no on Marty Block because he supports Gay marriage.’ I don’t give a different answer from what I’m giving now.”

When a club member quoted Block as having said the previous Sunday that if he had the H. R. 5 vote to do over again, he’d do the same thing, he got Block to pull back a little and admit that he should have given his Queer supporters a heads-up and warned them before the actual vote. “I still think the resolution was fundamentally flawed and misguided,” Block said. “I understand I disappointed a lot of people in this community by taking a position I thought was intellectually right. If I had it to do over again, I might take into account how I might be disillusioning young people. … I knew this wouldn’t be a popular vote with this club, and I love this club. It’s been both passionate and creative, and the duck shows both.”

Alan Acevedo, president of the Stonewall Young Democrats — the club’s youth wing — made a statement, thinly disguised as a question, that made it clear he’s precisely one of those young people whom Block disillusioned by his vote against H. R. 5. “A lot of us worked on your campaign because we thought you would be a candidate that represented your heart,” Acevedo said. “Now they’re disillusioned and don’t see a difference between you and John McCann” — the Republican Block defeated on November 4.

“I did do what I thought was right,” Block said. “I support marriage equality, but I thought this resolution was flawed. Nobody who gets elected will be with you 100 percent of the time. This resolution told the voters that what they did in November didn’t matter, and it threatened the courts. I don’t think it’s appropriate for the legislature to tell the courts what to do. It’s a difference in tactics, not [a question about] my underlying belief in marriage equality.” Block also compared H. R. 5 to the efforts by Right-wingers to pressure courts to rule in favor of restrictions on abortion rights, and said these sorts of outside attempts to intimidate judges into ruling a specific way on a specific case are wrong no matter which side of the political spectrum they come from.

Block got an important voice of support from a legislative colleague, openly Lesbian State Senator Christine Kehoe, who in 1993 became the first openly Queer elected official in San Diego County when she won a City Council race with the club’s strong support. “I have not lost trust in Marty Block,” she said. “I was disappointed in him, and I told him so. But I think Marty has learned a lot from this. I know this club well, and Marty does too. He’s not new to the club, or to elective office, but he is new to the California State Assembly. He has some rebuilding to do, but when it comes to protecting Gay youth in foster care, domestic partners having the same insurance married people do, or LGBT prisoners getting to see their partners, every one of these issues is the difference between Block and McCann. Not a single Republican voted for marriage or domestic partnerships in any legislative committee or on the legislative floor. There is a difference.”

Queer Democrats Oppose Flagship Budget Compromise Proposition

Club Splits Difference, Supports Three of the Six-Measure Package


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved


Christine Kehoe on May 15, 2008 — the night San Diego’s Queer community celebrated the California Supreme Court’s decision to grant same-sex couples marriage equality, later reversed by the state’s voters as Proposition 8

Carlos Marquez on March 4, 2009 — outside the San Diego County Courthouse at a marriage equality rally urging the California Supreme Court to invalidate Proposition 8

The predominantly Queer San Diego Democratic Club decisively rejected Proposition 1A, flagship measure of the six issues to be decided by California voters May 19 as part of a legislative deal made last January to revise the state budget in light of lower-than-expected revenues due to the nationwide recession. The measure, worked out by legislative leaders and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and passed with the bare minimum of Republican support required by the state’s two-thirds vote requirement to pass a budget, would extend the temporary sales tax increase and income-tax surcharge in the budget deal from two years to four. But it would also put 12.5 percent of the state’s general fund in future years into the Budget Stabilization Fund — the so-called “rainy day fund” — where it would be unavailable for future spending except when an economic emergency required it.

The club’s voters split on the five other issues Californians will face on the May 19 ballot. The club endorsed Proposition 1B, which will restore money previously taken away from the guaranteed funding to schools under Proposition 98 — but only if 1A passes as well. It also endorsed Proposition 1E, which reallocates money from mental-health programs funded under Proposition 63 to free up more of the general fund for other programs; and Proposition 1F, which prevents state legislators from receiving any pay raises during years when the state is running a budget deficit. The club opposed Proposition 1D, which would allow the state to tap into the children’s health care fund created by a previous ballot measure in order to help balance the current budget; and took no position on Proposition 1C, which would allow the state to borrow from the California Lottery to balance the current budget.

The club opposed Proposition 1A despite a plea in support of it from one of the club’s most beloved politicians, State Senator Christine Kehoe. She acknowledged the flaws in the measure but said that, given how the legislative majority is hamstrung by the two-thirds vote requirement for a budget deal, it was the best the Democrats in the legislature could do. “This budget is the first in 18 years to include new revenues,” she said. “Some people will argue the spending caps [under 1A] will hurt the disabled and elderly, but if we are not able to get the additional revenues, you will have harder gaps in services to close. This is the best budget we can get with Republican votes. If they don’t pass, future budgets will mean more borrowing and more cuts in services. This is very, very important stuff for the future of our state. This is the best we can do with the hand we were dealt. As long as we have the two-thirds requirement, this is the only way we can get Republican votes for revenue increases.”

However, due to her schedule Kehoe had to make her speech well before the club’s debate on the propositions — and by the time that happened, she was long gone and the initiative fell to the club’s fundraising co-chair, Carlos Marquez. Co-chair of the San Diego chapter of Pride at Work, a nationwide organization designed to build coalitions between the Queer community and organized labor, Marquez came to the meeting with a set of flip charts to illustrate his prepared presentation against 1A. Though he had to trim his 10-minute talk due to time constraints on the meeting, enough other 1A opponents yielded their time to him that he got to say most of what he wanted.

“Our state has been in some critical situations,” Marquez began. “We have been facing a budget crisis for some time.” Marquez said that only 30 percent of the January budget deal involved additional revenues; 36 percent was in spending cuts in state programs, 13 percent in new borrowing by an already heavily indebted state, 2 percent in promised line-item vetoes by Governor Schwarzenegger and 19 percent in funds the state is expecting under the federal stimulus plan President Obama recently pushed through Congress. He also pointed out that as part of their agreement to the budget deal, the handful of Republicans who voted for it pushed through lower taxes for corporations through a new option in how they can be taxed. “Now they can tax themselves by sales or assets, and if your sales are largely out of state it’s cheaper to be taxed on your assets,” he explained. “This tax break will cost $650 million the first year and $1.5 billion each year after that.”

Marquez said that the revenue increases were themselves highly regressive — higher sales taxes, vehicle registration fees and an income-tax surcharge, all of which will hit the poor harder than the rich — and in exchange for an additional two years of these temporary tax increases the Democratis leaders in the legislature “sold us out” by agreeing to a “permanent spending cap” that “gives the governor unilateral power to cut any program he sees fit. It requires a deposit of 3 percent annually to the budget stabilization fund based on a 10-year sample of programmatic declines.” In other words, he explained, the base years on which the spending cap will be determined are the first 10 years of the 21st century — years in which a Republican governor (since 2003) and legislative minority already forced major cutbacks in state programs. If 1A fails, Marquez said, the additional taxes will still be in effect for two years and “we will have two years to elect a legislature that will do its job.”

Club members who supported 1A argued much the way Kehoe had — that it’s a bad measure but what will happen if it loses will be even worse. If 1A fails, former club president Doug Case said, “we’re going to lose the $16 billion in additional revenue for four years, and it will destroy the state health care system. You’d better pass 1A because it will be a disaster for the health care system” if it loses. Another club member warned that the defeat of 1A will be hailed by the anti-tax Republicans and radical-Right talk-show hosts — who are already mobilizing their listeners against it — as a victory for their side and will virtually ensure that there will never be another opportunity to get legislative Republicans to vote for increased taxes.

Lorena Gonzalez, secretary-treasurer of the San Diego/Imperial Counties Central Labor Council — who attended the meeting in a successful attempt to get the club to endorse the federal Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) and make it easier for unions to organize in the private sector — said it would be the passage of 1A, not its failure, that “will put the state in peril. It’s morally reprehensible what’s been agreed to.” She and former club president Gloria Johnson both pointed to the state’s In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program, which supplies home-care workers to people with disabilities, as an example of a state service that will take a hit if 1A passes. Gonzalez said the defeat of 1A “will place pressure on the Republicans to give up their no-tax deal,” and criticized the measure for having been negotiated in secret by the so-called “Big Five” — the governor and the legislative leaders of both major parties — without input from other legislators.

The club voted overwhelmingly to oppose 1A. The motion to go on record against it passed with 25 in favor, 10 opposed and three abstentions. A motion to oppose 1B was then made and seconded by two of the people who had argued most passionately to oppose 1A — but they pulled back from their position when some of the 1A opponents, including Gonzalez, said the state’s public-school teachers would be worse off if 1A passes and 1B fails than if they both pass. “It’s very logical to oppose 1A and support 1B,” said former club president Craig Roberts. “If 1A passes, we want 1B to pass. If 1A fails, 1B is irrelevant.” After the motion to oppose 1B failed with no yes votes at all, a motion to support it passed with 34 in favor, two opposed and two abstentions.

Brian Polejes, a co-founder of the local Pride at Work chapter and a staff member with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), spoke out in favor of 1C. “This measure comes from SEIU’s research,” he said. “We represent the lottery workers. We have a very ineffective lottery in terms of generating revenue. It only raises $88 per Californian per year, compared to other states whose lotteries generate hundreds of dollars for every person in their states. The Massachusetts lottery generates over $500 for each person. There’s a lot of potential to improve the lottery.”

Opposition to the proposition came from club treasurer John Gordon, who called it “just a shell game” and expressed concern about the burden to the state of paying back the lottery in future years. A motion to endorse 1C got 20 votes, with nine opposed and nine abstentions, but failed for lack of the club’s 60 percent supermajority requirement for endorsements.

The club’s opposition to 1D was conditioned largely on former California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin’s position — she co-signed the ballot argument against it — and also on another impassioned presentation from Marquez. “Proposition 1D does in fact raid Proposition 10, the tobacco tax increase that secured ‘First Five’ funding for pre-kindergarten education. This proposition matters to California but especially to Democrats because this protects ‘lost’ children, including children of color.” Marquez said 1D “opens the door to raid these [previous] propositions,” and added that its passage would take control of the funding away from the locally based “First Five commissions” set up by Prop. 10 and give it to the state. After a motion to endorse 1D passed with five in favor, 26 opposed and four abstentions, a motion to oppose it passed by voice vote.

Like Propositions 1B and 1D, 1E proposes to alter a previously passed initiative that was an example of so-called “ballot-box budgeting” in which voters approve spending for a specific program — sometimes also providing a dedicated revenue source for it, sometimes not. The previous proposition 1E would modify was Proposition 63, which set up a state fund for mental health programs. The change 1E would make is to defund some of these programs so the state can use Prop. 63 money to meet federal matching requirements for mental health services for children and young adults, thereby still using the earmarked money for mental health but freeing $230 million of the state’s general fund to help balance the overall budget.

Club member and peace activist Kelli King was skeptical — “I can’t help thinking this is a way to transfer mental health money to younger folks and reduce it for older folks” — but Marquez was willing to go along with 1E because its passage would simply return state mental health funding to the “base” that existed before 63 passed. Eventually the club voted to endorse 1E, with 23 in favor to six opposed and six abstentions.

Proposition 1F was the easiest one for the club to take a position on, with vice-president for development Bob Leyh saying of the legislators, “Why should they get a raise if they don’t do their jobs?” Despite the concern of club member Gerry Senda that restricting pay raises for legislators will discourage all but the rich from running for office, the club endorsed 1F with 28 votes in favor, four against and four abstentions.

“Bliss Coach” KAMALA DEVI

Living and Teaching the Art of Loving More than One


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Throughout the debate over marriage equality for same-sex couples, advocates for same-gender marriage have insisted that the only rule for the institution that they want to change is the one that traditionally limits marriage to partners of opposite genders. They’ve said that they don’t want to loosen the restrictions on marrying family members or the rule that a marriage can only be between two people. In response, opponents have accused supporters of trying to open a slippery slope that will lead to people being able to marry multiple partners — and then, with the snideness typical of the modern-day Right, they start making repulsive jokes about people wanting to marry their brothers, sisters or pets.

But what about people whose emotional makeup simply does not allow them to be happy and fulfilled in a relationship with just one other person? In the 1960’s they were called “free lovers,” and some experiments in communal living included rules allowing members to have sex with each other in any combination, as long as both — or all — parties consented. More recently the term “polyamory” has been coined to describe multiple-partner lifestyles that, unlike polygamous relationships — which usually imposed strict monogamy on the female partners and were heavily male-dominated and sexist — allow men and women emotional equality in pursuing many sexual partners, either in addition to or instead of a primary one-to-one pairing.

Kamala Devi is a local woman whose business card describes herself as a “bliss coach” as well as the author of four books. Both in person and through her Web site,, she offers training for people interested in living a polyamorous lifestyle and learning the skills needed to maintain a balance between multiple partners — which, as she says below, can often be a lot harder than sustaining a relationship with just one other person. She spoke at two community workshops organized by the San Diego Bisexual Forum last summer and, in this interview, discusses her own journey into polyamory and the lessons her experience has to offer the rest of us.

Zenger’s: How did you get involved in living a polyamorous lifestyle?

Kamala Devi: My parents, though basically monogamous, were not faithful to each other. I think that’s really common. Children in that situation either grow up while their parents are divorcing, or they experience parents staying together in quiet desperation, and/or lying and cheating. From that experience, I saw at an early age that the dominant paradigm of monogamy isn’t working, and I wanted to find a relationship model that’s based in truth.

I came out at 16. I started to believe — and declare — that the whole heterosexual dating thing wasn’t for me. I wasn’t ready to call myself “Gay,” but I would say, “Hey, I have a boyfriend, and I have these best-friends, these women that I absolutely adore.” When I was 16, my boyfriend allowed me to have girlfriends and explore sexually with them. I didn’t know the word “polyamory” or any term for it, but I had a lot of fun being kind of deviant.

It wasn’t until I went away to college that I started looking for labels, and I felt like I was being told I had to choose: “You’re straight, you’re Bi or you’re Gay.” I knew I wasn’t “straight,” and “Bi” seemed so uncertainly grey, so I identified publicly as a Lesbian for about seven years and went through several attempts at Lesbian monogamy. I kept trying to find the “one” other half, and that didn’t really work. In fact, it kept not working — over and over again.

Then I met a man who was really comfortable with me having a girlfriend, and introduced me to the idea of plural relationships: loving more than one. It was quite revelatory. This was about 15 years ago, and what that looked like for me was a radical departure not only from my identity as a Lesbian, but this black-and-white thinking of “either/or.” His whole position was “both/and.” So I followed him to Hawai’i, where there was an established polyamorous community. We lived in a commune, in a sort of free-love community that didn’t have labels.

Actually, the first time I heard the term “polyamory,” it was really uncomfortable for me. I wasn’t ready for it, and yet I had a boyfriend and a new girlfriend, and he had two other lovers, and I was living with one of his other lovers. We had this whole constellation of lovers, and yet we didn’t have labels. Meanwhile I was working really intensely on Gay pride and political movements, and really trying to further the Bisexual identity. I identified as Bisexual and I didn’t understand polyamory, other than knowing that as a Bisexual woman, to be fully expressed, I wasn’t going to limit myself to one gender.

I didn’t really take it much farther than that until I met my current lover seven years ago. I had come to a place where I was clearly Bisexual, and at that point everyone in my life accepted me as I was, and then there was this other thing where I had him and two other women lovers. So I understood that I’m not just Bisexual but I’m capable of, and I thrive in, multiple loves. Meanwhile, I was teaching yoga and tantra and all of these other transmissions about love and personal satisfaction, and what I was living was this thing that I felt was somewhat unteachable. But people were attracted to the way I lived — “Wow, you have a girlfriend and a boyfriend and a few lovers, and everybody seems happy” — and they started asking me how do you do it and what it’s about.

I remember being invited to polyamory at NYCD. They have a “Poly Pride” in New York, and that’s a big new movement that models itself to some degree after Gay Pride, but also has been influenced by the BDSM community. I remember being invited to that and thinking, “I don’t really want to wave a flag around. This is me and who I am as polyamorous, because I just have so much acceptance, but that’s just how I am.” I really felt like a lot of my early Gay activism had come from a place of non-acceptance. People didn’t accept me, so I had to be “out and proud” until they totally accepted me.

So I didn’t have much political energy around polyamory, but then I was really looking around at my friends and lovers who were polyamorous, who were being discriminated against: only one partner is being invited to Thanksgiving dinner at the family, or there is no legal three-way marriage. I know long-term triads that are going very well, but we have to settle for one person being our primary because that’s what the law will recognize, and the other person not. There were different political issues that came up, and I just observed that injustice and then in my teaching, in my life coaching, more and more people who were attracted to me, who were people who said, “You seem to be working this out in your life. Can you help us? How do I initiate a threesome?” Anything from the very beginning level to, “I want to divorce my husband, because I don’t believe in the convention of marriage, and I want to re-establish a relationship with him and multiple lovers. How do I open that conversation, or save my marriage by doing that?”

I think there’s a readiness in society to discuss this when I kept getting calls from national media sources like the Tyra Banks Show and The Morning Show in New York. Then there was a British program that did an hour-long documentary on my lifestyle and the coaching that I do. All of this international attention was fun. They flew me to Germany to look at what a polyamorous community looks like in Zaag, which is close to Berlin, so I got this broader perspective on the state of polyamory around the world, and understood that there really aren’t spokespeople and role models.

A lot of polyamorous individuals are struggling with trying to chart their own course. They’re blazing their own trails, but they’re re-inventing wheels and they’re making a lot of the same mistakes that, if there really, truly was more leadership and more resources, they wouldn’t have to go through a lot of that. So I feel like I basically stepped into — or I got pulled into — teaching polyamory, which is something I never set out to do. And right now, I’d say a good 50 percent or more, maybe 50 to 70 percent of the work I’m doing, is coaching polyamorous individuals and writing or teaching workshops in that realm.

Zenger’s: What would you say would be the major pitfalls facing people who try to get involved in polyamory?

Devi: There are a lot of challenges. It’s hard to say what the major ones are. There’s definitely judgment from society. There’s jealousy and lack of support, lack of role models. There’s misunderstanding. A lot of people think that polyamory is swinging, or something — it’s just misunderstood.

There’s also the challenge that when you come together with somebody in the dominant paradigm of monogamy, there are certain cultural assumptions and rules; but when you release those rules and agree to be in your full expression, now you’ve got one person who’s got their own interest and capacity and configuration of what poly might look like, and they have to negotiate that with another person, and then add into the mix those multiple partners that are all having to negotiate that. What it becomes is a lot of processing, a lot of negotiation, a lot of communication, and frankly there’s not a lot of support available for people on how to have those kinds of conversations, and how to streamline and do that work. Again, it comes down to not enough training and resources.

My own journey in polyamory has brought me to a place where I need to be teaching this. I need to be sharing it, mostly because there’s so much that wasn’t taught to me. I think almost all of those pitfalls can be helped with some decent mentorship, and I don’t mean “mentorship” like coaching. I mean just support, basically community support. That’s another piece: just the lack of community. If you live in Middle America, where do you go to meet other polyamorous people?

Zenger’s: You mentioned that one of the forms of discrimination against polyamorous people is that you can only marry one other person. Given that the Queer community has yet to persuade any electorate in the United States that same-sex couples ought to be able to get married, isn’t that a hurdle that’s not likely to be breached in our lifetimes?

Devi: I don’t really know. I don’t have an answer to that question because that’s not my cause. I’ve got a primary partner, the father of my child, and if I wanted us to, we could get a marriage license. He’d certainly be willing to do so. But as free lovers, why buy into that whole paradigm, anyway? I don’t need to get into a debate about all the privileges that come with that. I certainly wish that there was fairness for the Gay and Lesbian community, but why wait for the legislature to wake up and do that for us? More people could be waking up and creating conscious agreements to be in triadic, or more, relationships, regardless of whether it’s officiated by the state. I think that issue is not what’s stopping people from their full expression. What’s stopping people is guilt, shame and the internal demons that tell people it’s not O.K. to love more than one person.

Zenger’s: Would you say that the Gay community is making a mistake pushing for same-sex marriage rights and thereby perpetuating the discrimination against non-monogamous people? The people who are arguing for same-sex marriage are saying, “We’re not challenging the monogamous requirement. We’re just asking that our relationships be let in.”

Devi: I have the utmost gratitude and respect for people who are on the frontlines of that fight. I am so grateful that they’re doing that, and on any day I will show up at the polls or show up at a rally and support that. But for me, it’s like we all have our own battles, and we have to choose them. My calling is not political; it’s more personal and spiritual growth. I want to help people accept, in them, whatever is holding them back from being able to love more than one person.

Zenger’s: You said a moment ago that polyamory is not the same thing as “swinging.” Could you explain what the difference is?

Devi: Yes. “Swinging,” generally, is a modified form of monogamy in which partners open the relationship to casual sexual encounters [with others], and sometimes those sexual encounters are deeply satisfying and can happen over long periods of time. However, polyamory is less about sex and more of an emphasis on the emotional connection, the spiritual connection, creating a life together, basically about emotional bonds. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the biggest distinction.

Frankly, I’m a swinger as well. I have no judgment about swinging. I don’t mind having casual sex at a sex party, while my husband’s there. But I so understand that that’s not everybody’s flavor, so the distinction is an important one to make. “Swinging” implies that there’s an open primary relationship, a relationship that’s open to outside sexual encounters. Polyamory may not have a primary relationship at all. It might be a whole constellation or a network of lovers and friends, some of whom might be primary and many of whom may not, but their relationships and their bonds are much deeper.

Zenger’s: I can see why people would have problems with the contradictions. As you said, we’re all brought up to believe that there is “the one” out there, the person who is right for us. The rising divorce rate, if nothing else, should act as a disconfirmation of that theory! But it is still what we are raised to believe. It is still descended from the whole reason marriage was established in the first place, which is to ensure that we know who the father of that particular child is, so we can maintain a patrilineal rather than a matrilineal line of inheritance. This whole idea that we’ve been brought up with, basically brainwashed into, is that there is that one other person out there, and when we find him or her we shouldn’t be looking around any farther. So how do you help people who have polyamorous attractions get over that conditioning?

Devi: Some of the deepest work in my coaching is around needs. And when I get people to identify what their needs are, whether that’s romantic or sexual or just for attention or reassurance — when people really identify the needs that they have, the ones that are being met, the ones that are not being met, and they come to accept that one person can never meet all of their needs, then there’s a natural shift that happens where people stop looking for one other half that’s going to complete them.

Zenger’s: I can see that this whole realization might really freak someone out. In terms of out social understanding of what love is and what relationships are, it would probably freak them out more than realizing that they have a same-sex attraction.

Devi: It blows the door open! As I said, it’s not an either-or, black-and-white thing. It’s rather like someone has this sense that they were colorblind before, and now there’s this whole spectrum. And it is overwhelming. The possibilities are intense, and that’s why there is so much to be taught and modeled around how to maintain healthy agreements and boundaries and communication, so that you can have multiple healthy relationships instead of just going mad or being overwhelmed.

It’s sad to see when it happens, but I’ve seen many people who fry their systems by falling in love too much. Love is a drug, and it can just really overload the brain and someone’s whole physiology. People can awaken to the fact that they’re poly and take on so many lovers, and not have any tools to make it sustainable, that they quickly say, “Polyamory is too intense. It doesn’t work for me,” and they run back to being monogamous because they “tried that” and it didn’t work. Or they had a lover who tried it and didn’t have the tools for it, and so they automatically decide, “Polyamory is not for me,” when what they had an exposure to was actually irresponsible. Maybe it had elements of cheating or chaos as opposed to a truly freedom-based relationship that’s responsible non-monogamy.

Again, it comes back to people need the tools to make it sustainable, because those aren’t being offered in mainstream monogamy. People aren’t being given the tools for how to handle jealousy, how to discuss when you have attraction to multiple people, and how to act in accordance with an agreement, or even how to negotiate agreements. These are all things that are just completely glazed over or hidden or not seen at all, unless you’re consciously seeking a sustainable non-monogamous relationship.

Zenger’s: I’ve got the impression that people in polyamorous relationships are just as hard, or maybe even more so, on so-called “cheating” than people in monogamous ones. How do you define the word “cheating” within a polyamorous context, and how do you handle it when it occurs?

Devi: I’d venture to argue that they are even harder on it, by far, because what you’re doing when you become polyamorous is that you’re agreeing, consensually, to engage in relationships openly. If you’re cheating, you’re really not polyamorous at all. They’re mutually exclusive. Cheating is when you betray somebody’s trust, breaking an agreement, doing that which you have said or agreed you would not do, and then you don’t tell that person — or even if you do tell the person — but it’s basically that you’re breaking that agreement.

In polyamory, you may have an agreement that you’re allowed to see whomever you want, but implicit in polyamory is the open communication: that you will tell your partners. This concept of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is not polyamorous. Giving your partner permission to do stuff that you don’t want to know about is not polyamorous. So cheating is definitely not polyamory, in my book.

Zenger’s: In your experience, and those of people you’ve known and worked with, how do polyamorous partners deal with “cheating” in that sense — breaking the agreements?

Devi: It’s really case-by-case. The only difference, I think, is that in polyamory there’s more of an emphasis on communication, so it may be a greater betrayal, but it also may be something that, because of that relationship skill in communication, can easily be worked out as well, and forgiven. It’s case-by-case as to whether that’s a deal-breaker or that’s just cause for more processing.

Zenger’s: You use the word “negotiation” again and again. I can see some people reading this getting the impression, “My god, I just want to play around. I don’t want to join the United Nations!”

Devi: I like that. I think that’s funny: “I want to open my relationship, but I don’t want to join the United Nations.” And that’s cool. To me, if you just want to have sex, be a swinger and meet somebody else, play with someone else that just wants to have sex. That’s great. There’s still a negotiation that needs to happen, and it may be short-cutted if you go to a sex club and there is, by virtue of showing up there, an unstated agreement that it’s going to be casual sex; or by going to these “lifestyle” Web sites where it’s about swinging. You can probably short-cut a lot of the negotiations you might have trying to open a monogamous person up to the concept of swinging.

As far as polyamory goes, I think the more that there is a learning curve, and the more skilled that you get at negotiation, and the more tools you get to communicate, that eventually you’re on the fast-track and you get to short-cut a lot of the heavy emotional processing. But I admit there’s a very deep learning curve to really master being in multiple relationships, and to do it well. You can do it irresponsibly or sloppily, or God could strike you with a lot of luck and you could find the perfect person that doesn’t need a lot of processing, but generally speaking it does take a lot of emotional heavy lifting.

Zenger’s: Isn’t this part of the problem: that a person in a polyamorous relationship risks betraying that many more people than a person in a monogamous relationship?

Devi: I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it sure seems like whatever goes on in a monogamous relationship, as soon as you’re polyamorous and juggling multiple relationships, everything becomes exponential, whether it’s the depth of trust or the depth of love or the depth of betrayal. It can all be exponential.

Zenger’s: Not just in your own experience, but in the broader sense, in terms of the larger society, given the intense pressure on people to be monogamous, how do you explain the persistence of a polyamorous subculture?

Devi: They recently discovered a polyamorous gene in rats. It’s kind of funny whenever we compare ourselves to test rats, but there is definitely evidence that in the animal kingdom, at least, there’s polyamorous nature. One could argue that my polyamorous tendency is some reaction to my parents’ infidelity, and that it’s just nurture or whatever, but if you were to ask me, I’d tell you this is who I am, and I’ve met a number of people who’ve had a deep sense of, “This is who I’ve always been.”

I tend to feel that we all have our own unique constitution, and that some percentage of the population is always going to be capable of multiple loves, whether they choose to live that lifestyle or not. Just like with the Gay and Lesbian community, the more that society is open to it and supportive of it, like in the major cities where there are resources for Gays and Lesbians, the percentages are just going to be higher. I think there’s a really strong parallel there.

There’s something else I want to share, maybe because I was on the Tyra Banks Show and she was so eager and so skeptical that she cut me off and so I wasn’t able to say this, but she had asked is it like a free-for-all, or are there rules? By all means, especially in the spiritual tantra community, there are a lot of individuals whose commitment is to be true to themselves, every moment and make no contracts and just allow themselves to be in free love. But that’s not the game that I’m playing. My partner and I have had intense agreements about how open we are at different times, and in the last seven years that we’ve been evolving our polyamorous practice, we have distilled it down to four primary rules.

The first rule is open communication: we say everything, even that which is not being said. We withhold nothing. The second rule is condoms for penetrative sex. We use protection. And thirdly, we only engage in relationships that foster more love and power and pleasure in our in our lives together. We have a commitment and an agreement not to engage in relationships that drain our power — or, another way of saying it, are negative or miserable or jealous. Our commitment is to only be with people that add energy to our lives, as opposed to draining it. We call that the “no-chaos clause,” or “no-drama clause.”

The last one that we play with mostly right now — this one’s a little bit subjective. Sometimes we work with this, sometimes we don’t. But right now, because we have a two-year-old child that we’re raising together, we’ve given each other veto power. We’re in a primary relationship. We’re committed to having a healthy household for our son to grow up in, and if I feel that he’s seeing somebody that isn’t aligned with our value system, I have the right to say, “I don’t want you to see that person anymore.” That’s really unlikely to come up because I trust his judgment, but it does offer me, his primary, a token of security and control. So I feel like, no matter how in love he got with somebody else, I could always say, “You know what? This doesn’t work for me.”

Those are our four agreements. Lots of couples have lots more, but those are the basic agreements that have been working for us for some time now.

City College Police Launch Investigation Into Alleged Homophobia

story and photo by LEO E. LAURENCE

Copyright © 2009 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

The San Diego Community College District is currently investigating a 10-page sworn complaint I filed March 12 alleging homophobia in the journalism class that produces the official, campus newspaper, the City Times.

At the suggestion of our Zenger’s editor/publisher, Mark Gabrish Conlan, I appeared before the college district’s board of trustees on that same day and requested their help.

To my surprise, a senior officer with the City College police department is supportive, and has interrogated two male journalism classmates who I believe pose a significant threat to my safety.

After I “came out” in my journalism class during the first week of this spring semester, I realized I had a serious problem with homophobia. I quickly hand-delivered a letter to the City College president’s office asking for “protection.” In a brief e-mail, he even acknowledged my letter and said it would be investigated. But apparently his involvement ended there.

The response by the college staff (deans, etc.) has actually become far worse than the homophobia. I’ve been treated as a troublemaker, rather than a victim.

So I took the case to the district level at our editor’s recommendation, and was personally promised by Chancellor Dr. Constance M. Carroll that her board of trustees would take a serious look at the long complaint.

That campus police said two of my classmates who are named as potential threats in the detailed complaint, Sports Editor Donovan Terblance and staffer Tom Andrew, would be interrogated. A formal official Police Report was promised by Sgt. Jordan Mirakian. That will become part of the official campus record of the students involved.

One officer told me that if anyone hits or threatens me, his department will come down hard on that person.

While my protection on campus seems to be in better shape, the district’s inquiry into the alleged homophobia may be on hold.

When I met with the district’s discrimination officer, Shawn Larry, in the district’s offices in Mission Valley on March 12, he refused to permit a tape recording of the meeting, as has staff at the college. What are they hiding?

I regard his refusal to allow a tape recording of the official meeting as an indication that the district staff is uncooperative in the inquiry. Progress reports are being sent to the district chancellor.

The mainstream media haven’t picked up on this yet, but the local chapter of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalist’s Association, of which I’m an active member, will soon be asked to intervene.

But the “editorial board” of the City Times, which includes the angry sports editor, published a vicious “hit piece” attacking me for my coverage of the situation in Zenger’s. I offered a rebuttal piece, pointing out that it is virtually unprecedented for a newspaper to publish an editorial attacking one of its own staff members in print and not give that staff member an opportunity to respond before publication. The City Times would not allow me either to publish my rebuttal in print or to post it to their Web site. It can be read in full on the Zenger’s Web site at

Although it has been hell at times to be on campus, I am actively pursuing this case on homophobia to help the many other Gay students, staff and faculty on campus. If they have problems with homophobia at City College, and make a complaint; they should be treated seriously and as victims, not as troublemakers — as has been my experience.

Contact Leo E. Laurence at (619) 757-4909 or at

Photo Caption: The board of trustees of the San Diego Community College District meets in open session on March 12. They promised to investigate allegations of homophobia at City College.

Gay Feature a Big Hit at Latino Film Festival

story and photo by LEO E. LAURENCE

Copyright © 2009 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

The crippling recession failed to make a big dent in attendance at the 16th annual Latino Film Festival, which ran March 12-22. “It’s on a par with last year,” said Ethan van Thillo, founder and executive director. There were many screening that were sold out.

The internationally recognized event in San Diego screened about 171 Spanish-language films with English subtitles, and cost over $250,000 to produce by the highly respected Media Arts Center in Golden Hills.

The movies came from Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Columbia, Chile, Portugal, Mexico, Honduras and other Latin countries. But, some of the best, professional-quality films came from Spain.

Perhaps the best Spanish movie of the whole festival was a high-quality and very funny Gay movie, Fuerta de Carta (literally translated “A Strong Menu,” though the official English title is Chef’s Special). The script was good, the casting better and the cinematography was Hollywood-quality professional. It is such a powerful movie that at times, it brought tears to my eyes.

The festival’s movie ranged the full spectrum of filmmaking, including classics, drama, comedy and sci-fi.

International films use more heavy drama than Hollywood movies, which seem to require guns, violence and explosions to be marketable.

One sci-fi movie screened was GB2525, a low-budget attempt to show life in the barrio far into the future. In typical Hollywood style, there are lots of guns and violence in GB2525!

But most of the cast and crew of the movie came down from L.A. and appeared at the festival.

One of the hottest actors who appeared was Ricardo Molina, a baby-faced, cute, soft-spoken Latino who effectively plays the role of a tough, gang member in the barrio of the future. And he’s trained in the martial arts.

But when scenes of street fighting showed on the screen, they looked so contrived and unreal that many youths in the audience laughed loudly.

Over the past five years, the festival has had to cope with the limited availability of many of the best Latino films. Producers take the better movies to the major festivals, like Havana, Cuba.

There, commercial distributors buy the best films and prohibit them from being shown in events like our local Latino Film Festival, according to van Thillo and City College Spanish Professor Juan Bernal.

That has limited the films available to our local film festival.

Whoever controlled the bar at the festival’s Closing Gala in the Gaslamp Quarter failed to provide Mexican beers at the bar.

The festival is really a multi-level event celebrating Latino culture.

Some outstanding original paintings and other art pieces were featured in the UltraStar Theatre lobby. That art exhibition is a regular feature of the annual festival, and was presented by Andy Gonzalez, curator of La Onda Arte Latino (

Corporate funding changes challenged the festival’s organizers. Some major corporate sponsors of the past dropped their funding, as they were hit by the recession.

Contact Leo E. Laurence at (619) 757-4909 or at

Photo Caption: Exciting movie actor Ricardo Molina of L.A. appeared at the 16th annual Latino Film Festival in March. Photo by Leo E. Laurence.

The Platt Brothers: An Act You Must See


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger's Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

The first time I encountered the Platt Brothers was at a “Say What!” open-mike night in February at Filter, the coffeehouse at 30th and Polk in North Park formerly known as the Other Side, where three nice-looking (if a bit gangly) young men came out and did a couple of songs in impeccable three-part harmony. They were particularly impressive on a song called “His Name’s Boone,” a parody of the Beach Boys’ “In My Room” that managed to capture the Beach Boys’ sound while making delightful nonsense of the lyrics. So it was a surprise — a jolt, actually — when I saw them again at an outdoor show promoted by the Planet Rooth gallery, also in North Park, and instead of dressing in casual street clothes they came out wearing comic versions of the Superman costume and did a spectacular acrobatic act that ended with the three of them grabbing each other and doing circular flips. (Don’t try this at home.)

The Platts gave both these free performances to promote their two-month residency at the Sunset Temple, 3911 Kansas Street in North Park, in the same building as the Claire de Lune coffeehouse — whose owners are promoting their show. Their shows continue through April 3, 4, 11, 17, 18 and 25 at 8 p.m. and April 10 and 24 at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10 and available through their own Web site at or the venue’s site at You owe it to yourselves not to miss them; that way, when they become major stars, you can regale your friends with tales that you saw them way back when …

For make no mistake about it: the Platt Brothers are major talents. And in answer to your first question about them — or at least my first question when I had a chance to interview them after their March 20 show — their last name really is Platt and they really are brothers. Their show can basically be described as the Smothers Brothers (an influence they readily acknowledged) meet Monty Python meet the Three Stooges. They seamlessly blend music, dance, sketch comedy and acrobatics into a stunning, outrageously funny whole that’s based — so they insist — on their actual experiences growing up in a remote Northern California town.

There are actually seven Platt siblings, though two of them are female and the oldest and youngest Platt brothers aren’t part of the act. The ones that are are, in age order, Cy — short for Cyril William Neill, a name he quickly abandoned in kindergarten for reasons that are explained in one of the show’s most hilarious bits — Cheetah (originally Benjamin, and the circumstances and reasons for the change are also part of the program) and Boone. Cy is the (relatively) short, wiry one; Cheetah the tallest and the one with the frizzed-out red hair and band of freckles across the face (a feature he’s had since childhood, as documented by the family snapshots shown on big screens as part of the act); and Boone is the youngest, blondest and cutest — at least by consensus of the young straight women who form a good chunk of their fan base.

The Platts can’t remember a time when they weren’t interested in performing. When their ages were still in single digits they got their first exposure to live dance from a ballet company. “I saw people jumping, leaping and hurling,” Cy recalled. Told by their parents that they’d have to sign up for some sport in school, Boone said, “We tried gymnastics and soccer, and that just encouraged us to perform.” They wanted to learn circus tricks and couldn’t find a school to do so, but they managed to find opportunities to work with acrobats and learn the skills needed to build what eventually became their act.

Cheetah first came to San Diego in the early 2000’s to earn a theatre degree at UCSD, but the genesis of the Platt Brothers’ act began in 2004. “Cy and I got cast in Wonderland at Harrah’s Reno,” Cheetah recalled. They put together a five-minute duo routine which Cy said was “hip-hop with jokes, an elephant sound and an Irish jig.” Boone was still in high school, but as soon as he graduated he joined his brothers in Reno and the three of them expanded their show to a 45-minute routine that’s the basis of what they perform today.

“The first time we did a full-length version was in 2006,” Cheetah recalled.

“No, it was in 2007,” said Cy.

“We did one-night stands, but then we had no reason to fine-tune the show,” Cheetah said. Their two-month stand at the Sunset Temple gave them the opportunity to hone the performance and figure out a way to lengthen it without totally wearing themselves out physically “We started out with very little singing,” Boone said — and the reason they added more, according to Cy, was “we got tired really fast when we did all the physical stuff. We had to find slow, quiet moments.”

“We loved singing in the high-school choir,” said Cheetah, so vocals were a natural addition for them. What wasn’t was a folk-music singer-songwriter parody in which Cheetah tells the story of his name change in song — and accompanies himself on guitar. Cheetah had never played the guitar before in his life. “We wrote the words and the tune,” said Boone, “and we had to teach Cheetah to play guitar.”

One commitment they’ve made to themselves and their performance is to keep it real. Everything in the show — from the gospel-soul song about how their father used to punish them by making them fill a wheelbarrow full of rocks and push it home, to their accounts of hunting raccoons that were eating the family’s chickens and starting brush fires around their home — is, they insist, merely a comic “spin” on real events from their childhoods. “We make lots of jokes, but every story is 100 percent true,” Cheetah insists. “We’ve tried hard not to add anything that wasn’t true or wasn’t us.”

“They really burned the hill down, and his name really is Cheetah,” added Cy. They said they’ve brainstormed doing skits about made-up stories but rejected the idea — which suggests they might be letting themselves in for the Augusten Burroughs problem. Burroughs did such a great job strip-mining his life for comedy in his first two books, Running with Scissors and Dry, that his more recent ones have seemed dull by comparison.

Asked how hard they rehearsed the show, Cy said they started rehearsing in December and aimed for a mid-February opening. It was a difficult process, Cheetah added, because not only did they have to learn difficult acrobatic tricks, three-part harmonies and comic timing, as well as recording all the sound effects for the show (even when they’re clearly performing to a tape, it’s their tape) but because, as Cheetah put it, “We didn’t have a producer, director, choreographer or anything but us.”

“We can rehearse the songs in the living room, but the dance pieces take a lot of time just working on the computer even before we physically do it,” said Boone.

“A lot of times we agree, but also we disagree,” Cheetah added. He said they sometimes have long arguments about a particular routine when “either way would work.”

Asked who’s influenced them, they say the Smothers Brothers (they don’t use the Smothers’ signature joke, “Mom always liked you best!,” but a lot of their humor is in a similar sibling-rivalry vein) and Mark Lewis, a veteran storyteller who’s appeared on the Tonight Show and who opened for them March 20. Part of the quirkiness of the show is explained by the fact that when they were growing up, their parents didn’t have a television — and even after they got one, virtually all they watched were movies. “If we watched Looney Tunes, it was a movie and we studied it,” said Cheetah.

What their parents did have was a record player and a large collection of comedy albums from the heyday of stand-up recordings in the 1960’s. “Older comedians influenced us because they weren’t dirty,” Cheetah said. “You could listen to them with your parents or with your kids. I’ve always respected people who could entertain the whole room. A lot of people today say they’re just children’s entertainers, or they’re just adult entertainers.”

“Our parents didn’t tell us no, and part of that rubbed off on us,” said Cy. “We don’t have to label ourselves or our intentions. We’ll take characters from everyday life.” He added that the three-man flip — the spectacular acrobatic climax of the act — was taught to them by “an eighth-generation Italian dude from a circus, who spoke almost no English” — and who was also teaching it to his own sons so they could extend it into the ninth generation.

Asked what the future holds for the Platt Brothers, Boone said, “We really don’t know, but we get people to see the act for two months. We get to get everything where we want it to be.”

Cy added that their two-month residency at the Sunset Temple has been “the first time we’ve been able to do our performance as our profession” — the first time they’ve been able to consider the possibility of making this their life’s work. “We have the viable possibility of going on tour and doing this as a job,” he said. “We’re hoping to take it to a wider audience, but still with the interactions of a small room.”

In the meantime, they’ve been able to build up a big enough local following that their show fills up nearly all of the 300 seats in the Sunset Temple — and Cheetah says he loves the setup of the room, a large performing floor with a horseshoe-shaped seating arrangement with the audience on three sides of them. “We want to offer them a glimpse into Platt family history, and give them the impression that we’d be doing this even without an audience,” he said. “We’d love to arrange tours in different theatres.

“Anything that could bring us a new audience, we’ll keep doing it,” Boone added.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Response to Unprofessional “Editorial” in San Diego City Times

By LEO E. LAURENCE • Copyright © 2009 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

Editor’s Note: On March 17, 2009 the City Times, the official student newspaper of San Diego City College, published an editorial entitled, “City Times editors respond to Zenger’s,” which was a direct attack on Leo E. Laurence’s piece, “Forty Years Later, Gay Lib Pioneer Still Struggles; Zenger’s Associate Editor Challenges Homophobia at City College,” in the March 2009 Zenger’s. The City Times editorial — which carried the unusual disclaimer at the end that it represented “the opinions of the City Times editorial board and not necessarily the opinions of the entire staff” — made several incorrect assertions about Laurence and indicated at least one willful misreading of the article to which it was supposedly responding.

Laurence drafted the following reply, which he was not permitted either to publish in the City Times or post to the paper’s Web site. Laurence’s original article can be read on this site at, and the City Times editorial attacking him is currently posted on their Web site at

The “hit piece” that masquerades as an editorial in our [the City Times’] last issue is designed to inflict damage.

It may be nearly unprecedented in American journalism for a newspaper to publicly attack one of its own staff members in print, and (1) without first interviewing that reporter and (2) offering that staffer the opportunity to respond in the same issue.

The hit piece was unprofessional, poorly written and even violates the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), of which I am a longtime member and on the SPJ’s National Committee on Diversity.

I am also active in the local chapters of the Latino Journalists of California and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association.

The SPJ’s ethics code requires professionally written articles to be (1) factually accurate and (2) fair. Both basic principles of journalism are violated in the “editorial.”

There are too many factual errors to list. But every fact in my published story in Zenger’s Newsmagazine — a community publication and which is challenged in the “editorial,” is well documented.

Unfortunately, the editorial board didn’t do its basic research and verify its facts.

Fairness requires a journalist to check with all sides of an issue to produce balanced coverage.

And “it’s not even good writing,” said a senior police officer with a journalism education. Because of his official position, his name is not used.

After “coming out” in the journalism class early in the semester, I have been the victim of escalating alleged homophobia. Our college staff, however, has treated me as a troublemaker, not a victim.

Therefore, I filed a 10-page, sworn complaint with the district. Chancellor Dr. Constance M. Carroll personally assured me that the lengthy complaint will be treated seriously.

Because I believe my personal safety is at substantial risk, the campus police are now involved and a formal Police Report is being produced. I believe I could be hit on campus with a bloody beating. Homophobics, like racists, are dangerous!

No student should be scared in class, yet I am in journalism.

This newspaper’s editorial board consists only of the various student editors, including one who is included in the police investigation.

Clearly, the “editorial” does not state the opinion of all of this newspaper’s staff members. Indeed, many of my journalism classmates — and numerous college staffers and faculty — are openly supporting me, solidly. My community support is expanding.

Though the City Times published a sympathetic article on an anti-Proposition 8 demonstration in the same issue as the hit-piece editorial, my editor and publisher at Zenger’s, Mark Gabrish Conlan, told me, “This demonstrates their [the editorial board’s] priorities. In my opinion, they just put the Prop. 8 story in to try to demonstrate that they are not homophobic.”

While the newspaper covered the Gay marriage story, it completely ignored the 40th anniversary of the worldwide Gay Lib movement on the same day, March 5.

I am a serious student and want to study. But publication of that unprofessional “editorial” is only adding fuel to the fire, dangerously.

Canadian MP Chow Speaks Out for Robin Long

Headlines Activist San Diego Meeting Supporting War Resister

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN • Photo of Olivia Chow by Charles Nelson

Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Activist San Diego put together an impressive list of speakers for its March 16 meeting on the fate of U.S. war resister Robin Long — including Olivia Chow, a member of the Canadian Parliament who helped lead an unsuccessful struggle to persuade her country’s government to grant Long political asylum instead of returning him to the U.S. — but the most powerful voice of all came from someone who wasn’t there: Robin Long himself. Now serving a 15-month sentence at the brig at Miramar, and facing a dishonorable discharge and a 10-year ban on his return to Canada — a particularly brutal punishment given that his wife and their son are Canadians — Long communicated with the group via an open letter subsequently released online on March 19 at

Long and Chow both placed the blame for Canada’s refusal to grant Long asylum on the ruling Conservative Party and its prime minister, Stephen Harper, a strong political ally of former U.S. President George W. Bush (whose first post-presidential foreign visit was to Canada, where Harper publicly greeted him warmly). “The Conservatives are destroying Canada’s tradition of being a refuge from militarism and an asylum from those escaping injustice — a tradition that goes back to the time of slavery,” Long wrote in his letter, which was read at the Activist meeting by Jan Ruhman of the San Diego chapters of Veterans for Peace and Viet Nam Veterans Against the War. “Who are they working for, really? The days of Bush have ended. The new Obama administration has a different view and different policies. It’s time for Mr. Stephen Harper to change his view.”

Long called on the Canadian government to follow the wishes of both the Canadian people — opinion polls there have shown a majority of Canadians support granting asylum to U.S. war resisters — and the Canadian Parliament, which passed non-binding resolutions specifically urging the government to harbor both Long and a previous war resister, Jeremy Hinzman. Long’s letter explained that it was in Hinzman’s case that the Conservative government got the judge at his refugee hearing to rule “that evidence challenging the legality of the war in Iraq can’t be used in this case” — thereby ensuring that both Hinzman and Long himself would be deported to the U.S. and would face courts martial on desertion charges.

Chow, a member of the New Democratic Party (NDP) — the farthest Left of Canada’s four major political parties — and the life partner of the party’s leader, Jack Layton, boasted that her party not only led the opposition to Canada sending troops to Iraq as part of Bush’s “coalition of the willing,” but she personally pushed through the parliamentary resolution urging the government to give Long asylum. “We have said no to Iraq, and under the NDP we tried to say no to ‘Star Wars,’” Chow recalled. “We were under tremendous pressure to say yes. My partner met with Bush and said, ‘No, there are Canadians who said no to Mr. Bush.’ We have a minority government. The majority of Canadians say no, don’t deport the war resisters. The majority in Parliament said no, but Harper chose to ignore the Parliament and the people.”

Reporting on her visit to Long in the Miramar brig earlier in the day, Chow said, “To see him in there, his spirit is pretty good. Here is a young man who’s losing his freedom for 15 months for speaking out in Canada, and he is being punished extra hard. Imagine not being able to see your son for 10 years or more. He said that when his trial was going on, all the evidence against him was his public statement that ‘I feel my President lied to me.’ In the Viet Nam war we let in 50,000 resisters, not just the ‘dodgers’ but the ones who went and then left. Initially the [Canadian] government of that day said no. It was the people who rose up, led by the churches at the beginning and then by the minister of immigration, and said yes, at first to the ‘dodgers’ and ultimately through waves of amnesty until everyone could stay.”

At the meeting, Chow was introduced by Dawn O’Brien of Parents of Military Families, who described herself as “not a Democrat, no longer a Republican, not a progressive or a liberal and definitely not a dittohead.” A native of Arizona, she moved to San Diego when she got tired of the long drive to see the three servicemembers in her family — a son, a daughter and a son-in-law — when they were stationed here. “My son has been in the Marines five years,” O’Brien said. “He will be getting out on April 23, his 23rd birthday, and that will be the best birthday present he’s ever got. My daughter will be going back to Kansas. My son-in-law has been in the Marines for six years and he just re-enlisted” — because, she added ruefully, he couldn’t bring himself to turn down the $70,000 signing bonus both he and her son were offered to stay on.

“I’m here tonight as a mother, to try to help you understand what military families go through,” O’Brien said. When her son and son-in-law were in Iraq, “I had sleepless nights and nightmares. Phones ringing would create great anxiety. I have two teenagers next door, and their father is a colonel. When their car door closed, I’d feel there must be a U.S. government van in front of my door. I could picture two Marines walking to my door, and all I could do was scream, ‘Which one? Which one?’” O’Brien said her nerves were in such a state that when she heard the song “Far Away” by Nickelback at a friend’s house she freaked out — because it was one of the songs she and her son had picked out to be played at his funeral should he die in combat.

O’Brien also said that while her family members were serving in Iraq she regularly logged onto the Web site and compulsively watched CNN, knowing that she couldn’t get any specific information from those sources but still hoping that they could give her an idea whether her son and son-in-law were alive or dead. “My biggest fear last summer was something happening with Iran,” she recalled. “I would fear when my daughter called and her husband and my son were in Iraq.” O’Brien said she tried to get through the ordeal with humor — “My son would call from Iraq and I would joke, ‘You must be doing a lousy job, gas is almost $5 a gallon’” — and she didn’t get involved in the peace movement until she saw a Veterans for Peace DVD of one of their “Arlington West” displays, in which members set up crosses in a public place and read the names of war dead.

In addition to reading Long’s letter, Ruhman made some comments of his own, in which he linked the persistence of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the country’s economic woes. He recalled that he joined Viet Nam Veterans Against the War in 1974, three years after he got out of the Marines, and called for the peace movement to revive the efforts to organize active-duty servicemembers that led to the establishment of anti-war “coffeehouses” near U.S. military bases and groups like FTA (whose initials variously spelled out “Free the Army” and “Fuck the Army”) to encourage more people in the military to resist.

“Every place there’s a war resister, someone needs to adopt them,” Ruhman said. “We need to let them know that we raised them to make moral choices, even jail or desertion, over fighting an unjust war. These are noble, moral souls, and I support them.” He called Long “smarter than me and a brother I just met” — referring to audience member Carlos Summers, an Iraq Veterans Against the War member who joined the peace movement only after he left the military.

Friday, March 06, 2009

State Supreme Court Hears Proposition 8 Cases

Justice Skeptical of Their Power to Overturn Voters’ Constitutional Amendment


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

The long-awaited oral arguments in the cases seeking to invalidate Proposition 8 took place before the California Supreme Court on the morning of Thursday, March 5 — and were a sobering wake-up call for the Queer community and supporters of marriage equality for same-sex couples. Throughout the hearing, the Supreme Court justices appeared reluctant to go out on a limb and declare that Proposition 8, which amended the California state constitution to provide that only marriages between one man and one woman would be “valid and recognized” in California, could somehow be construed to violate the very constitution it amended. However, the justices also seemed skeptical of the demand by Proposition 8’s supporters that they read it retroactively and invalidate the estimated 18,000 marriages of same-sex couples performed between June 15, when the court’s previous decision striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage took effect, and November 4, when California voters approved Proposition 8 by a five percentage-point margin.

The arguments took three hours and 10 minutes, slightly longer than scheduled. Only one attorney — Kenneth Starr, former U.S. solicitor general and special prosecutor of former President Bill Clinton — spoke in favor of upholding Proposition 8. But the arguments against it were divided among five separate lawyers — Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights; Raymond C. Marshall, representing a coalition of civil rights organizations; Michael Maroko, representing Robin Tyler, veteran Los Angeles-based Lesbian entertainer and activist; Theresa Stewart, representing the city of San Francisco; and Christopher E. Krueger, representing the office of California Attorney General (and former Governor) Jerry Brown, who at first had pledged to defend Proposition 8 in court but then switched sides and came out against it. (Ironically, it was Brown, as governor, who signed into law California’s first explicit ban on same-sex marriage, a legislative bill amending the California Family Code to define marriage as between one man and one woman, in 1977 — and when he ran for attorney general, the predominantly Queer San Diego Democratic Club endorsed his primary opponent largely on that basis.)

It didn’t help that the anti-Proposition 8 attorneys came off as surprisingly lame. Only Theresa Stewart seemed intellectually coherent, capable and in touch with the full implications of her arguments. She was also the only one who seemed adept at the kind of thinking-on-one’s-feet needed to argue an appeal in front of a panel of justices peppering the advocates with questions and frequently putting them off balance to try to get to the root issues of a case. Michael Maroko seemed so out of it that on several occasions he identified “heterosexuals” as the group Proposition 8 discriminated against — and both the justices and the other attorneys were polite enough not to call him on his mistake.

The attorneys opposing Proposition 8 were also hamstrung by their inability to agree on a common ground on which to urge the court to throw out the initiative. Minter, Marshall, Maroko and Stewart all came prepared to argue that Proposition 8 constituted a “revision” of the state constitution rather than a simple “amendment,” and therefore should have been required to go through a more elaborate process — approval by a two-thirds vote of each house of the state legislature and then a vote of the people — than it did. Kreuger, reflecting Brown’s position, conceded that Proposition 8 was an “amendment” rather than a “revision” but said the court should throw it out anyway because it infringed on the “inalienable rights” of a “suspect class” as defined in Article I, section 1 of the state constitution.

The court’s debate — and in the hearing the justices did a lot more talking than the attorneys did — largely centered around the meaning of the word “revision” and whether a change in the state constitution that did not affect the balance of powers between different branches of the government could still be held to be a “revision” requiring legislative approval before voters could weigh in on it. Many of the justices pointed out that the only two times the court has previously thrown out an initiative on the basis of “revision” were in 1948, when an initiative attempted a thorough rewrite of the constitution that added half again as many words to it; and 1990, when it threw out a requirement in an initiative that the court could not interpret the state’s constitution and laws to grant more due-process rights to criminal defendants than the U.S. Supreme Court gave them under the federal Constitution.

The basic problem with the arguments against Proposition 8 was they were legal equivalents to the so-called “‘Hail Mary’ pass,” in which a losing team in a football game tries to win in the last few seconds by throwing a long pass and hoping there’s a team member in its vicinity who can catch it and score a touchdown. The inability of the anti-8 lawyers to find any case in California history in which the Supreme Court had thrown out an initiative on “revision” grounds that did not involve a structural change in state government didn’t help their cause. Neither did the absurdity of the whole idea that an amendment to the state constitution could be found to be in violation of the state constitution. Logically, the supporters of Proposition 8 had by far the better case: “We didn’t like it when you, the justices of the California Supreme Court, interpreted the state constitution to require the legal recognition of same-sex marriages. So we used our rights as California citizens and voters to put an initiative on the ballot to change the state constitution and reverse you.”

Part of the problem — as chief justice Ronald George said during the arguments — is that it may be too easy to change the California state constitution. Other states either don’t allow initiatives at all, or don’t allow their constitutions to be amended by initiatives, or require either legislative approval or a constitutional convention to approve a proposed amendment before the people can vote on it. (That’s how same-sex marriage survived in Massachusetts and Connecticut; their constitutions’ elaborate amendment mechanisms deprived those states’ voters of the opportunity to do what California’s voters did when they passed Proposition 8.) This suggests the grim irony that one of the results of the legal attack on Proposition 8 may be a change in the state constitution to make it more difficult to amend — which would make it harder for the Queer community and its allies to reverse Proposition 8 than it was for its supporters to enact it in the first place.

The Brown argument that Proposition 8 somehow runs afoul of “inalienable rights” guaranteed by the constitution, that can’t be taken away by simple majority vote — and Stewart’s related argument that the people, by adopting the state constitution and putting in it an expansive set of legal rights (including some, like the right to privacy, that aren’t explicitly granted by the U.S. Constitution), restricted their subsequent ability to change the constitution to take away those rights — ran into the problem that the California state constitution doesn’t at any point designate certain parts of itself as “inalienable” or “special” and therefore unamendable by a simple initiative. Both Stewart and Kreuger tried to read the guarantee of rights in Article I, section 1 — “All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy” — as unamendable, but not only does the constitution itself not specify that, new rights have been added to that clause by simple amendment, notably the addition of a right to privacy in the 1970’s.

Indeed, one of the things that most seemed to trouble the justices in the Proposition 8 case was that the anti-8 attorneys seemed to be arguing that you can add constitutional rights, either for the general population or to protect specific minorities, by simple amendment, but it takes a revision to subtract rights. The justices argued that on several occasions voters have passed initiatives that stripped away rights — when they voted to reinstate the death penalty after the California Supreme Court had declared it unconstitutional; when they eliminated busing as a remedy for racial discrimination in schools; and when they prevented government from using affirmative-action programs in hiring and university admissions — and their court has upheld their right to do so. Stewart made a good attempt to argue that the busing and affirmative action initiatives merely took away specified remedies against discrimination, and others pointed out that the death penalty initiative didn’t abolish judicial review of specific death-penalty cases and therefore still left the courts a role in the process.

The blunt fact, however, is that as currently written the California state constitution sets virtually no limits on the people’s power to amend it. When former San Diego City Councilmember Toni Atkins said in a marriage equality rally the day before the Supreme Court hearing, “Proposition 8 stands for the idea that if enough people agreed, we could establish an official state religion, take away women’s right to vote or even re-establish slavery,” what she didn’t seem to realize is that the California constitution could indeed be amended to accomplish any of those things, and the only thing stopping that is the specific prohibitions in the U.S. Constitution against them. Likewise, there would be nothing to stop the voters of California from re-enacting the prohibition against interracial marriages the state supreme court invalidated in 1949 if the U.S. Supreme Court hadn’t ruled in 1967 that such laws violate the federal Constitution.

The case against Proposition 8 was based on a kind of wishful thinking all too common in the modern American Left: the idea that because something is unjust, therefore it must be unconstitutional. In the last 30 years the American Right has consistently out-organized (as well as vastly out-spent) the American Left in building public support for its positions. What’s more, the Right has realized the necessity of building majority support and using the political process to achieve its goals, while the Left on issue after issue, from reproductive choice to criminal due process to same-sex rights in general and marriage equality in particular, has ducked the hard work of political organizing and sought to use the courts as a short-cut, a way to force progressive social ideals on an American public largely unwilling to accept them.

The African-American community didn’t make this mistake. There’s a reason why the most intense period of civil-rights activism by and for African-Americans took place from 1955 to 1965, the decade immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation was unconstitutional. African-American leaders realized that the court’s decision wasn’t a guarantee of rights, but a sort of hunting license for civil rights and a challenge to their community to do the hard political, social and street activism needed to turn those promised rights into reality. By contrast, the feminist movement largely walked away from the issue of reproductive choice after Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, giving opponents the chance to organize and build support for renewing abortion bans — and the pro-choice side has been playing catch-up ever since.

Most progressives living in the U.S. today have never experienced a period like the 1930’s, when the political branches of government were dominated by progressives and the courts were reactionary forces. Through much of Franklin Roosevelt’s tenure as president, he was bedeviled by a U.S. Supreme Court using what would now be called “judicial activism” to invalidate law after law that Roosevelt and his party’s Congressional majority had hoped would help revive the economy. Indeed, Roosevelt got so frustrated by the Supreme Court’s interference with his agenda that he mounted an ill-fated campaign to expand its membership so he could “pack” it with more progressive judges. With most sitting federal judges having been appointed by Republican Presidents and vetted, not by neutral groups like the American Bar Association, but by ideologically Right organizations like the Federalist Society, President Obama may face similar opposition from Right-wing “activist judges” ruling large parts of his agenda unconstitutional.

There are a few silver linings in the dark clouds surrounding Proposition 8 and the court cases about it. The California Supreme Court justices seemed disinclined to rule that the estimated 18,000 same-sex marriages performed between June 15 and November 4 were invalidated by the initiative, and in particular they saw the preposterousness of Kenneth Starr’s argument that the marriages would remain on the books but not be “valid” or “recognized” for any legal rights or responsibilities. Starr’s position would essentially have told those couples (including my husband and I) that our marriages would no longer be recognized in California but would become valid again if we moved to Massachusetts, Connecticut, Canada, the Netherlands or Spain.

The case also put on the table a proposal from an unlikely source — conservative Pepperdine University law professor and Proposition 8 supporter Douglas Kmiec — that the state get out of the marriage business altogether and offer “civil unions” equally to opposite-sex and same-sex couples, while reserving the term “marriage” to religious organizations, thereby at least in theory reconciling the Queer community’s demand for legal equality and the Proposition 8 supporters’ desire to preserve the traditional religious association of the term “marriage” with opposite-sex unions only. No doubt the people who sponsored Proposition 8 would denounce this as an end run around their initiative’s intent — just as they claimed in court that California’s domestic partnership law (which they now cite approvingly as making same-sex marriage unnecessary) violated the spirit of Proposition 8’s predecessor, Proposition 22 — and in a way they’d be right, but it does suggest a possible point of compromise on this divisive issue.

But the best thing the upholding of Proposition 8 — if the California Supreme Court indeed so rules — could do for progressives is cure us once and for all of the idea that appealing to the courts is a substitute for broad-based political organizing aimed at winning majority support for our rights. As much as we like to talk about minority protections and civil rights, the fact is that the essence of democracy is the rule of the majority, and for the most part majorities in a democracy get what they want. From the start, the Queer community and its allies have almost totally lost the battle for public opinion on the same-sex marriage issue. Every U.S. jurisdiction whose people have had a chance to vote on this issue has voted against us, usually by overwhelming margins. If we’re ever going to have marriage equality, we’re going to have to start fighting for it among the people, with creativity and determination, and not expect the courts to make us a present of rights we haven’t persuaded a majority of our fellow citizens that we deserve.

Over 500 Turn Out for Marriage Equality Demonstration

Mayor Sanders Addresses Group on Eve of Supreme Court Hearing


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

“We want the legal right to marry whom we love,” said former San Diego City Council candidate Stephen Whitburn on the steps of the San Diego County Hall of Justice downtown on March 4 to open a rally in defense of same-sex marriage and against the marriage ban California voters passed exactly four months earlier. The rally, which Whitburn MC’d while the man who defeated him in his City Council race, Todd Gloria, was stuck in Council committee meetings, was part of a statewide series called “March Forth on March Fourth,” timed to occur on the eve of the California Supreme Court’s oral arguments in the case, which took place March 5 in San Francisco.

The crowd was sparse at first, but as the event wound on over 500 people crowded onto the sidewalk in front of the Hall of Justice to hear a wide range of speakers. First up was San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, who appeared with his daughter Lisa and her partner Megan. Sanders stunned the city last year when he abruptly reversed his opposition to same-sex marriage on the eve of the original Supreme Court case, saying that he couldn’t tell his Lesbian daughter that her relationship was less important than his own. This time, Sanders, a Republican, spoke about the effect of Proposition 8, which stripped California same-sex couples of the right to marry just six months after the state Supreme Court had declared it a fundamental right.

“When one person’s rights can be taken away, it can happen to anybody,” Sanders said. “Proposition 8 puts all minority groups at risk, not just LGBT’s [Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender people]. I don’t support separate but equal institutions.” Noting that a similar initiative, Proposition 22, passed by 18 percentage points in March 2000 while Proposition 8 won by only four points, Sanders said, “I think we saw a tremendous change in people’s thinking — and it will continue to change.”

Sanders was followed by former San Diego City Councilmember Toni Atkins, who brought along her own wife, Jennifer LeSar. “Last May we cried tears of joy when the California Supreme Court decided that we had the same rights as others,” Atkins said. “Then in November we cried a different sort of tears when the voters, by a slim majority and based on a deceptive campaign, took our rights away. Proposition 8 stands for the idea that if enough people agreed, we could establish an official state religion, take away women’s right to vote or even re-establish slavery.”

Waving her and LeSar’s marriage license, Atkins added, “This piece of paper really makes a difference. I wondered if I would feel the same way the day after our wedding, and Jennifer and I woke up the next morning and asked each other if we still felt different. I hadn’t thought it would matter, but I woke up on September 7 convinced it did make a difference. We believe this piece of paper matters and it should still matter. Our leaders are asking the Supreme Court to stand up for equality and overturn Proposition 8. I hope they will, not just for me and Jennifer but for Megan and Lisa.”

The next speaker was San Diego City Councilmember Donna Frye, married to a man and a staunch defender of Queer equality. “Isn’t it a shame that we are still having this conversation?” she said. “Equal rights shouldn’t be so controversial. We just heard from my former colleague, Toni Atkins, on how it felt when the court said that you should have the same rights as other married couples. I want to tell you how grateful I am to be part of this event. I stand with you proud and united behind the idea that you deserve the same rights as I have.”

Rebecca Rauber of the San Diego chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) boasted of her organization’s role — along with the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund — in bringing the lawsuit challenging Proposition 8 before the California Supreme Court. “For the first time,” she said, “the initiative process has been used to take rights away and mandate discrimination against a minority. If Proposition 8 is upheld, the courts will no longer have a role in protecting the civil rights of minorities and women. If the court strikes down Proposition 8, it will be protecting the legal rights of all minorities.”

Scott Ehrlich, professor at the California Western School of Law, began his speech by saying, “I’m up here today because of my partner Frank. We’ve been together 21 years and we can’t be married.” He boasted that another Queer organization had just filed suit in federal courts to invalidate portions of the Defense of Marriage Act (DoMA), which bars the federal government from legally recognizing same-sex marriages made in the U.S. or any foreign country that allows them. He praised California Chief Justice Ronald George for his opinion last May striking down the state’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage — the decision Proposition 8 was designed to reverse — for acknowledging the issue’s effect not only on same-sex partners themselves but also on the children many of them are raising. He also questioned the motives of Proposition 8’s backers.

“The supporters of Proposition 8 argue tradition and use Biblical references to support the majority’s positions,” Ehrlich said. “Under these traditions, married women couldn’t own property in California until 1880 and women couldn’t vote until 1920. Black and white children could be legally segregated in schools until 1954. Black and white people couldn’t get married in California until 1949, and throughout the U.S. until 1967. Now it’s our turn for the courts and the legislatures to wash away those facetious arguments that we’re not entitled to the same rights as heterosexual couples. I’m really looking forward to the right to marry my partner in the future.”

Betty Anderson, who with her husband Pete performed such songs as the Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love,” U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and John Mellencamp’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” wore a button reading “Straight Against 8” and said, “It’s not a sexual orientation issue, it’s a human rights and human dignity issue. We had a Gay rights rally in Coronado [where the Andersons live] with 40 people. My picture was on the front of the Coronado Eagle holding a sign saying, ‘My marriage is not threatened by Gay rights.’”

“I was living in South Lake Tahoe and was on my way to San Diego to visit my friend Tiffany when the California Supreme Court first announced its decision last May,” said Sara Beth Brooks, who emerged as a leader in the equality movement in San Diego in the wake of Proposition 8. Her group, the San Diego Equality Campaign, organized a march and rally in mid-November that drew 10,000 people, the largest turnout statewide for a post-Proposition 8 marriage equality event. “I really look forward to going to San Francisco [for the actual court hearing] tomorrow, representing San Diego. I look forward to the tears of joy when Proposition 8 is declared invalid by the California Supreme Court.”

Jess Durfee, openly Gay chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party and former president of the San Diego Democratic Club, thanked Republican supporters of marriage equality like Mayor Sanders and Chief Justice George, but said that overall the stances of the two major political parties couldn’t be more different on the issue. “The California Republican Party says, ‘It’s important to define marriage as one man and one woman. Educational institutions should not be exploited to teach homosexuality as an ‘acceptable alternate lifestyle.’ We oppose domestic partnerships, child custody and benefits for homosexual couples,’” Durfee said, quoting the California Republican Party’s platform.

“The Democratic Party supports equality for LGBT people in all aspects of their lives,” Durfee continued. “We support the LGBT community in the quest for equal marriage. We also see a stark contrast in the way the parties vote in the legislature. Of the 15 Republicans in the California State Senate, 14 earned zero on the Equality California scorecard.” [Equality California is the state’s main lobbying group for Queer rights and was a major player in the campaign against Proposition 8.] Out of the 25 Democrats, 20 earned 100 percent. Of the 32 Assembly Republicans, 30 earned zero. Of the 48 Democrats, 47 got 100 percent. I am proud of what my party stands for, that my party leads on marriage equality.”

Robert Klaus and Miguel Rodriguez, a Gay couple who met and got together six years ago in their native Iowa before moving to San Diego, spoke next. Robert mentioned that he has a Lesbian sister and recounted the history of their relationship, including the legally non-binding commitment ceremony he and Rodriguez went through at the United Church of Christ before they left Iowa. “I didn’t realize until the commitment ceremony how much it hurt not to have the legal rights,” Klaus said. “On September 22, 2008, a date we will never forget, I was legally married after five and one-half years of waiting. That joy was short-lived. The voters tried to tell our community that we are less than equal. I implore the court to reverse that and not divorce us against our will.”

“San Diego, it’s a pleasure to be with you because you’re my family,” Rodriguez said. “Robert and I have been together six years and we have fights, but we love each other and are trying to make it work together. Marriage is a union of two people who love each other. The people who voted for 8 are saying no to Gay rights and no to their brothers and sisters. As a Gay Latino, I know what it is to be discriminated against,” he added, closing his speech with a short message in Spanish.

Lisa Kove, volunteer coordinator for the San Diego Democratic Club and a major player in the marriage equality movement in San Diego, brought along her 18-year-old son Scott and described her legal battle against her former partner in Pennsylvania to establish a Lesbian partner’s right to child support. “Her attorney said to the judge, ‘There’s no such thing as Lesbian child support. This is a slam-dunk. You must dismiss,’” Kove recalled. “The judge said we had to make this fair, and there was nothing in the U.S. Constitution to cover this, so he went back to the Magna Carta and found a phrase, ‘equitable estoppel,’ under which he ordered child support. We went to the court of appeal in Pennsylvania and all three judges on the appeals panel agreed with my side. Since then, we have had Lesbian child support in the United States.”

The emotional high point came when Tom and Richard Wolheim, a 31-year Gay couple who appeared in matching white T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, “Just Married,” introduced a group of East County marriage equality activists called the “Mama Bears.” They weren’t all women and they weren’t all Queer, but they galvanized the audience as they told how their representatives in the California state legislature refused to meet with them on this issue — though, Richard Wolheim boasted, eventually they got progressive Democratic Assemblymember Lori Saldaña to move from “probable yes” on the legislative resolution endorsing the legal challenge against Proposition 8 to active support and co-sponsorship.

“How dare anyone use scare tactics and strip away the basic freedoms of Californians,” one of the “Mama Bears” said as the rally reached the high point of its attendance. Other speakers, a choral performance and a candlelight vigil along Broadway followed.