by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
PHOTOS, top to bottom (14):
Jersey (far right) at assembly point
Equality for All
Canvass for a Cause
Drew Searing (left)
Despite short notice and the threat of rain, over 250 people turned out on the streets of Hillcrest Tuesday night, February 7, for a march and rally called by the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (S.A.M.E.) to celebrate a 2-1 ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that Proposition 8, California’s voter-approved ban on marriage equality, violates the U.S. Constitution.
The ruling came in the case of Perry v. Brown (formerly Perry v. Schwarzenegger), filed by attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies on behalf of two California couples, one Gay and one Lesbian, who challenged Proposition 8 in federal court after the California Supreme Court affirmed that nothing in California’s state constitution blocked the voters from amending it to define marriage as solely between one man and one woman. The majority opinion was written by Stephen Reinhardt and joined by Michael Hawkins, both appointed to the court by Democratic presidents (Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, respectively). Randy Smith, the judge who voted to allow Proposition 8 to stand, was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush.
“Proposition 8 operates with no apparent purpose but to impose on Gays and Lesbians, through the public law, a majority’s private disapproval of them and their relationships, by taking away from them the official designation of ‘marriage,’ with its societally recognized status,” Reinhardt wrote. “Therefore, Proposition 8 violates the Equal Protection Clause” of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Marchers assembled on the corner of Sixth and University in Hillcrest from 5:30 to 6 p.m. Many of them brought umbrellas, then put them away as the rain stopped just before the march stepped off. Despite rumors that San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, who testified in the Perry trial on behalf of marriage equality, had been invited to speak at the rally, the only elected official present was Third District City Councilmember Todd Gloria, who did the march but didn’t address the crowd. The police kept marchers on the sidewalk of University Avenue and successfully resisted a short-lived attempt by members of Occupy San Diego, who joined the demonstration, to take it to the streets.
Instead of elected officials, the rally speakers included three members of the Equality Nine, whose trial on misdemeanor charges stemming from a civil disobedience action in August 2010 is scheduled to begin in San Diego County Superior Court March 28. Sean Bohac MC’d the event and Zakiya Khabir and Michael Anderson were among the scheduled speakers. Khabir reminded the crowd that the Nine had been arrested for protesting San Diego County’s refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after Judge Vaughn Walker first declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional in August 2010 — a decision which was appealed to the Ninth Circuit, producing the February 7 ruling.
“We were expecting marriage licenses,” Khabir recalled. “Instead we were not even allowed into any of the rooms on the floor of the County Administration Center where the County Clerk’s offices are. We sat in on the floor and we were arrested.”
The county clerk at the time justified his decision by pointing to a “stay” — a delay — in Judge Walker’s own ruling, which remains in effect even though two federal courts have now found Prop. 8 unconstitutional. Since the 9th Circuit panel kept the stay in effect, California counties still cannot issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples even though three judges in two courts have ruled Prop. 8 invalid. A sign in front of the rally stage said of the 9th Circuit decision, “Right on the Merits — Wrong on Delay!”
“The next step in front of us is the U.S. Supreme Court,” Khabir said. Actually, the Prop. 8 proponents have three choices: they can appeal for a so-called en banc hearing before all 11 judges of the 9th Circuit, they can appeal directly to the Supreme Court or they can decline to appeal at all and allow the 9th Circuit decision to take effect. Few people seriously expect the Prop. 8 supporters not to appeal, and their signals before the 9th Circuit ruling was that if they lost there, they’d go directly to the Supreme Court.
“Many people think that’s a time to wait for a decision to come down from on high,” Khabir said of a potential Supreme Court appeal. “But I and a lot of other people disagree. We need to be out in the streets saying it’s not O.K. when rights are taken away.”
“There is still a long process ahead of us with the Supreme Court struggle,” Bohac added. “We need to keep up the pressure in three states: Maine, Washington and New Jersey.” Maine voters narrowly approved a measure similar to Proposition 8 in spring 2009 and Queer-rights activists there are going back to the ballot box to overturn it. Washington’s governor, Democrat Christine Gregoire, has already signed a marriage equality bill into law and the state is expected to issue licenses to same-sex couples within weeks. New Jersey’s legislature has passed a similar bill and it’s now on the desk of Republican governor Chris Christie, who has threatened to veto it.
Michael Anderson used his speech to contrast the city’s attitude towards marriage equality activists with the hostility the Mayor, City Council and Police Department have shown towards the Occupy protesters in Civic Center Plaza. He said he was disappointed that Sanders hadn’t attended the rally because “I wanted to ask the Mayor what was the difference between this group of people and those down in Freedom Plaza [as the Occupy protesters have renamed Civic Center Plaza]. I’d like to ask the Police Department and the Mayor to end the police harassment and illegal arrests against the Occupiers.”
Anderson also noted that the so-called National Organization for Marriage, one of the groups that pushed Proposition 8, has targeted the Fair Education Act, a bill passed by the California legislature in 2010 that requires that students in public schools be given age-appropriate lessons on “the role and contributions of … Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Americans … to the total development of California and other states.”
Michelle “Jersey” Deutsch, staff member of Canvass for a Cause (CFAC) and an Occupy protester who was roughed up by police and then mistreated by doctors and nurses when she sought treatment for her injuries, also mentioned the Fair Education Act and the struggle to preserve it against a Prop. 8-style initiative. “It is an incredibly important bill, and just like Proposition 8, there are paid signature gatherers on the streets collecting signatures to repeal the Fair Education Act.”
Deutsch also talked about her experience with CFAC, which — as its name suggests — approaches people on the street and talks to them about marriage equality. “For the last four years, LGBT [Queer] people and our allies have been working in the streets and communicating with people who voted against us,” she explained. “At CFAC, one in four non-supporters we approach end up moving to the side of equality. Just by educating people and talking through the lies and misconceptions $42 million campaigns can create, we can move voters to equal rights.”
“A very happy good evening to all of you,” said José Medina, a self-proclaimed “straight and humble” ally and a key member of S.A.M.E. often seen leading chants at its demonstrations. “Another wall is smashed against those who have stood in the way of human dignity and progress. For California, a trail of legal victories has been established that hopefully may persuade the Supreme Court not to even hear an appeal.”
S.A.M.E. opened the mike to all comers after the official rally, and got some interesting and sometimes surprising voices from the crowd. Lisa Kove of DOD FED GLOBE, an organization devoted to safeguarding the rights of Queer people who work for the Department of Defense as servicemembers or civilian employees, began her speech with a disclaimer she gives so often she joked the audience knew it by heart, saying she was speaking purely as an individual and not representing the Defense Department.
Kove then talked about the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and what she called the “loophole” it left: openly Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual people can now serve in the U.S. military, but Transgender people still cannot. “Who’s to say they won’t decide someone doesn’t live up to their standards of masculinity and kick them out for being Transgender, just as they used to throw out straight women by charging them with being Lesbians?” she said.
“Also, right now they have made it where we cannot get married on military bases,” Kove added. “That violates our right to religious freedom. I’m a Reform Jew and we believe in marriage equality. We need freedom for all religions, not just their religions.”
Sid, a woman in a wheelchair, talked about how the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DoMA), passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by a Democratic President, Bill Clinton, in 1996, stands in the way not only of the military recognizing same-sex relationships but also prevents American citizens legally married to same-sex partners overseas from sponsoring their spouses for immigration.
It’s an issue that affects Sid personally. She met her wife when she was stationed with the U.S. military in Germany and they were married under German law. “My marriage is legally recognized in Germany,” she said. “I have free health care there, but I can’t afford to live there. My marriage is not recognized here. We have no rights here whatsoever. You should see my wife’s college tuition bills. It’s ridiculous. Let’s get rid of DoMA now.”
“I’m so proud to be part of this night,” said Thomas. “I grew up in Lakeside in the 1980’s when LGBT’s were not considered part of the community. I grew up in terror and it took me until I was 18 when I came out with the support of a sympathetic family. Now kids come out younger and younger, and they should.” Thomas also offered “a prayer for people in Syria and North Korea who are more oppressed than we are, who can’t come out to a street and protest like we can, and are living in fear or dying.”
“I was at the planning meeting for this, and I suggested we all have an orgy, but I got shot down,” said Eric, who identified himself as Sister Iona Dubble-Wyde of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence but said he’d put the drag aside while he attends college. His advice to the crowd was to “come out as a Gay person or as an ally, because it’s much harder to hate something you can put a face on. Then there’s less chance they’ll hate this ‘Gay monster’ they don’t know anything about.”
One young man who has come out as a straight ally — with dramatic results — is Jace Watson, a recent graduated of Scripps Ranch High School who headed the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) there. “I had a lot of discrimination against me as GSA president,” he said. “People thought I was Gay, and when I told them I was a straight ally their jaws dropped to the floor.” He recalled taking GSA members to Queer-rights protests and “you could see it in their faces when court decisions came out and people came out in favor of talking about Queer issues in school.” Like some of the other speakers, he urged the crowd to act to protect the Fair Education Act.
“Nobody here knows my name,” said Blake. “That does not matter. We are all human beings. Are we Gay, white, Black? That does not matter. What matters is our human right to be who we are. It’s up to every one of us to be out there, be free, go to the essence of our humanity and be who we are. Be honest, be genuine and come from your heart. Be honest with your family and friends, your lovers, your wives, your husbands and the fabulous policemen who are here protecting us.”