Saturday, April 14, 2012

Marriage Equality Activists Face Trial April 30; Support Event April 27

San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality
P. O. Box 633131
San Diego, CA   92163
(858) 335-6615

April 12, 2012

Marriage Equality Activists Face Trial April 30

April 27 “Evening with the Equality Nine” Highlights Their Civil Disobedience

SAN DIEGO — Six members of the “Equality Nine,” a group of marriage equality activists who were arrested on August 19, 2010 for going to the San Diego County Clerk’s office and demanding that marriage licenses be issued to same-sex couples, will go on trial Monday, April 30, 2012, 9 a.m. before Judge Joan P. Weber in Department 51 of the San Diego County Superior Court, 220 West Broadway, fourth floor, in downtown San Diego.

The San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (S.A.M.E.), which sponsored the original demonstration at which the arrests took place and has coordinated community support for the Equality Nine, will host an event, “An Evening with the Equality Nine,” Friday, April 27, 7 to 9 p.m. at Pleasures & Treasures, 2525 University Avenue (at Arizona Street) in North Park. The event will be a combination community forum and social which will give people a chance to meet the Equality Nine and their supporters.

Among the speakers at the event will be Equality Nine member Cecile Veillard; Jersey Deutsch, activist with S.A.M.E., Occupy San Diego and the marriage equality outreach group Canvass for a Cause (CFAC); and Eric Isaacson, a local attorney who was involved in the litigation in which both a trial court and an federal appeals court have declared Proposition 8, California’s voter-approved ban on legal recognition of same-sex marriages, unconstitutional. An attorney representing one of the Equality Nine is also scheduled to speak.

Community co-sponsors of the event include CFAC, Activist San Diego (ASD), the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice (SDCPJ), and the Rainbow Action Group of the First Unitarian-Universalist Church, which is providing refreshments. S.A.M.E. is also asking supporters of marriage equality and the Equality Nine to demonstrate outside the court building at 220 West Broadway from 8 to 9 a.m. on the opening day of the trial, April 30.

“We have to pressure the system at all levels, from local government to President Obama,” said S.A.M.E. member Chuck Stemke, one of the Equality Nine. “Unfortunately, the large and exciting movement that erupted across the state and county after the narrow passage of Proposition 8 has declined. But that movement compelled Obama to lift the ban on Gays [serving openly] in the military — more cooperation than most oppressed groups in society have received. But the President has not lifted a finger on marriage equality. He continues to be publicly opposed … We need to continue the struggle against Proposition 8 in the streets, inside the courthouses and in the streets outside the courthouses. We cannot let this issue fade from public consciousness.”

Recalling the August 19, 2010 demonstration, Sean Bohac, another S.A.M.E. and Equality Nine member, explained that the group’s goals were, “first: to encourage the County Clerk to issue marriage licenses to the same-sex couples who had appointments to be married that day.” At the time, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker had already issued his landmark opinion that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional and could not legally be enforced, but the Court of Appeals then issued a “stay,” a legal delay that has prevented Judge Walker’s decision from taking effect. The stay remains in place even though a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals upheld Judge Walker’s ruling by a two-thirds vote.

“Even though Proposition 8 was ruled unconstitutional, unjustified and wholly discriminatory in a federal court, the same court blocked same-sex marriages for the duration of the appeals process,” said Chuck Stemke. “A year and a half later, it is this stay which continues to block Gay and Lesbian couples from getting married in California. We wanted to directly challenge the system, specifically then-County Clerk David Butler … to do the right thing by upholding his oath to serve the public equally. And if he wouldn’t do it, we wanted all of San Diego to know that the LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender] community is no longer willing to wait at the mercy of this system.”

In order to challenge the stay, S.A.M.E. members came to the County Clerk’s office on August 19, 2010 with three same-sex couples there to demand marriage licenses, including Equality Nine members Michael Anderson and Brian Baumgardner. Two other couples actually had appointments to get married that day, booked with the County Clerk’s office before the stay was imposed. One of the couples, Tony and Tyler Dylan-Hyde, came with a letter (drafted by Tyler, a licensed attorney) explaining why, in their view, the County Clerk could marry them despite the stay.

According to Bohac, if they couldn’t obtain marriage licenses for the same-sex couples in their group, their second objective was “to make sure that the people of California knew that we were angry that we were being discriminated against on the basis of a law that had been found unconstitutional by a federal judge.” When they went to the clerk’s office, they were blocked from entering and met with 50 San Diego County Sheriff’s deputies in full riot gear, and ultimately nine S.A.M.E. protesters were arrested.

The Equality Nine are being charged with two misdemeanors: failure to disperse, and interference with the business of a public agency. The second charge is based on California Penal Code section 602.1(b), a law which in the immediately following second (c) states that “Section b shall not apply to any person on the premises who is engaging in activities protected by the California Constitution or the Constitution of the United States.” Though Judge Weber has refused to allow the defendants to present this issue at trial, the issue of whether a law that specifically exempts constitutionally protected free speech from its provisions can be used against political demonstrators is likely to be a major issue on appeal if the Equality Nine lose in the trial court.

“What the prosecution is essentially arguing is that we were preventing ‘equal access,’ which is the most ironic of terms,” S.A.M.E. and Equality Nine member Cecile Veillard said. Indeed, the Equality Nine have argued that it was they who were denied “equal access” to the business of a public agency when the request of three same-sex couples for marriage licenses on August 19, 2010 was met with arrests from sheriff’s deputies in full riot gear.

Some Equality Nine members believe their prosecution signals a get-tough attitude towards public demonstrations of all kinds on the part of city and county officials in general, and San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith in particular. Goldsmith is not only prosecuting the Equality Nine — despite at least 3,500 petition signatures collected by S.A.M.E. and CFAC asking him to drop the case — he is also prosecuting members of Occupy San Diego who were arrested for violating the arbitrary and often inconsistent orders of police during the occupation of Civic Center Plaza.

“Many of us were excited when Occupy San Diego was forming, drawing crowds and working towards making a statement that represents why people are dissatisfied in these times,” said Bohac. “I think that kind of expression is really important in society, and so we have to fight this case, partly because if we win, it’s going to encourage other people to stand up and represent themselves when they feel like some kind of injustice is taking place.”