Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Over 4,000 Rally in San Diego Against Prop. 8 Decision

State High Court Approves Marriage Ban, Lets Existing Marriages Stand


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

The outcome of the cases before the California Supreme Court challenging the validity of Proposition 8 was announced Tuesday, May 26 and went pretty much as expected. The court upheld the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages but let stand the legal weddings of same-sex couples between June and November 2008. But, though most commentators had predicted that outcome since the court heard oral arguments in the case on March 5, that didn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of emotion in San Diego’s Queer community. That emotion made itself felt from 5 to 9 p.m. May 26, as over 4,000 people took to the streets between Sixth and Laurel in Balboa Park and the San Diego County Hall of Justice at 220 West Broadway downtown for a “Day of Decision” march and rally planned months ago for whatever day the court announced its ruling.

The California Supreme Court justices voted 6 to 1 to uphold Proposition 8, but the vote to uphold the validity of the estimated 18,000 marriages of same-sex couples in the state between June 15, 2008 — when their previous ruling allowing same-sex marriages went into effect — and November 5, when the secretary of state’s office certified that Proposition 8 had passed, was unanimous. The one dissenter who thought the court should have thrown out Proposition 8 was Justice Carlos Moreno, who wrote, “The majority’s holding essentially strips the state Constitution of its independent validity in protecting the fundamental rights of suspect classes. … [D]enying Gays and Lesbians the right to marry, by wrenching minority rights away from judicial protection and subjecting them instead to a majority vote, attacks the very core of the equal protection principle.”

Many of the speakers at the Day of Decision rally echoed Moreno’s words. “Today the court made a ruling that undermines decades of progress in civil rights and declares that our fundamental rights are subject to a majority vote,” said rally MC Stephen Whitburn, former San Diego City Council candidate. “Today the court opened the door for discrimination against any minority. Make no mistake: that is unjust. But we will meet this challenge and undercut this historic injustice with our historic initiative. Today we affirm that separate is not equal, and we realize it will be up to us to reach the hearts and minds of our fellow Californians. We will do this, and we will do this together.”

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders appeared at the rally with both of his daughters and with Megan, fiancĂ©e of his Lesbian daughter Lisa. “Sadly, the California Supreme Court today let a simple majority of voters take away rights from whomever they want,” Mayor Sanders said. “They can point at any group and decide they don’t deserve the same rights as anyone else. … I don’t know why either of my daughters would be a threat to anybody. They just want what all of you want: the right to be in love and to get married. That’s not something a court can decide.”

“Today, every Californian who loves freedom and fairness was stunned and outraged by the California Supreme Court,” said Dr. Delores Jacobs, executive director of the San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center. After declaring that between 5,000 and 10,000 people had participated in the march downtown — higher than the official crowd estimate of 4,000 by the San Diego Police Department — and that “Facebook was silent for 45 seconds” when the decision was announced, Jacobs added, “You could hear the collective grief and pain that once again we were told that our rights were not equal. … Today every minority group in California is in fear because it only takes five percent [the victory margin for Proposition 8] of your neighbors who don’t understand you and your faith to take away your rights. But it also inspires a new generation of activists.”

Robert and Miguel, a Gay couple who met in their native Iowa and moved to San Diego 2 1/2 years ago, were clearly stunned by the irony that Iowa now allows same-sex couples to marry — and presumably more liberal California doesn’t. “We married after five years together,” Robert said. “We are in a legally gray area and we are sad for our families and communities. Many of our friends are stuck in a perpetual engagement until we fix this. We have friends who are impacted by immigrant rights because of DoMA [the federal Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996, which limits federal recognition and benefits to opposite-sex marriages]. We believe everything worth having is worth fighting for, and we will fight to the end. We’re going to stand up.”

“I live in a state that says marriage is between a man and a woman — but I’m married to a guy, and I’m not going to stop working until all people have that right,” said Miguel. “This will not be simple, but Martin Luther King and Harvey Milk were great heroes who fought against discrimination, and we have to work at least as hard as they did.”

Robert and Miguel weren’t the only legally married same-sex couples who felt uncomfortable at having staked out a privileged position while others in long-term same-sex relationships can’t get married in California anymore. Educator Jan Garbosky appeared with her partner of 21 years, Bonny Russell, and said, “Tomorrow is the first day of the next campaign. … We know what it feels like being married. It’s not like being together or being domestic partnerships or having an unofficial ceremony. Our families are different. We are different.” Garbosky called for a special outreach to senior citizens, “people our age or older,” because “they are the ones who don’t understand” — a reference to the fact, well documented in polls, that the younger a person is, the more likely he or she is to support same-sex marriage equality.

“Today we are a community in mourning,” said Sara Beth Brooks, who since the passage of Proposition 8 has made a dramatic leap into leadership in San Diego’s Queer community. Sporting the pink cowboy hat that’s become her trademark, Brooks said, “Today we have been denied our rights. We must take our sadness and fill ourselves with hope. We must use our sadness to focus our movement on the hope of national civil equality. We have hope. We have Iowa, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut and Massachusetts [the five states that currently allow same-sex couples to marry], and here in California we have hope too. … This loss was anticipated, but it was still devastating.”

Brooks was field organizer for the march as well as a speaker at the rally that followed. She walked through the crowds assembled for the march with a portable microphone headset, followed by a woman carrying the speaker to which her mike was connected. (The sound of her voice coming from a box attached to someone else’s body was jarring.) Concerned that the march might erupt in violence, she strolled through the crowd that assembled at Sixth and Laurel and told them over and over again that they must remain peaceful. They did, not only because the organizers asked them to but also because many people were acutely aware that after the court’s ruling the only chance to get rid of Proposition 8 is for the Queer community to put its own initiative on the ballot to repeal it — and violence would only turn voters off and make passing the repeal measure even harder. Brooks asked the rally audience to mark November 2, 2010 on their cell phones — the earliest date a repeal of Proposition 8 could be on the ballot and have any realistic chance of passing.