by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
March with International Socialist Organization (ISO) banner
Gathering before the rally
Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
Four Years and No Complaints
You Are Not Alone
Lori Hensic of the American Military Partners’ Association (right) with her fiancée Shaina
Pastor Bill McCullen of Missiongathering
Musician Colby Martin of Missiongathering
March with End DoMA, Prop. 8 sign
March after dark
Assembling the lights
At the overpass
“This shit wouldn’t happen … ”
On the eve of the United States Supreme Court’s historic hearing of the constitutional challenge to Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage approved by California voters in November 2008, San Diego was one of 180 cities in all 50 U.S. states to host a “Light the Way to Justice” rally. The purpose of the nationwide mobilization was to raise public awareness of the case and to call on the Supreme Court to issue an historic ruling declaring all laws against marriage equality for same-sex couples unconstitutional.
The event was held outside the Federal Building on Broadway and Front Street downtown at 6 p.m. March 25. It was called by San Diego Queer activist Sean Sala, organizer of the first contingent of active-duty military personnel to participate in a Pride parade. Sala acknowledged he’s a relative newcomer to Queer activism, having only been involved for the last two years, while “there are people who have been doing this five, 10, 15, 20, 50 years now. We’re here because of their work.” As precedents for civil-rights activism he cited 19th century women’s activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martin Luther King, Harvey Milk and the “drag queens and Transgender people who were the ones at Stonewall who sparked this movement.”
Sala put together a 41-minute program with three speakers and a musical performer. First up was Lori Hensic, director of educational affairs for the American Military Partner Association, a nationwide network of partners and spouses of Queer servicemembers. Throughout her presentation her partner Shaina, an active-duty Marine Hensic plans to marry in California this August if the Supreme Court invalidates Proposition 8, stood by her side.
“I’m elated and moved beyond words to send a true message to the Supreme Court to embody the virtues of equality,” Hensic said. “I’m the child of parents who raised me with honor, and taught me to stand up for what was right. I didn’t think I’d ever have to stand up against my parents. My spouse and I will be married in August, but my parents will not be there because they tell me they ‘do not believe in same-sex marriage.’ It’s not something to ‘believe’ in. My love is real, and my marriage will be too. I’m hoping the Supreme Court will allow this marriage to continue and grant us the benefits to which all other Americans are entitled.”
The U.S. Supreme Court was scheduled to hear two different marriage-equality cases on consecutive days. On February 26 they held a one-hour, 20-minute hearing on the Proposition 8 case and on February 27 they were scheduled to address the provision of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DoMA), a federal law which defines marriage as one man and one woman and therefore forbids legally married same-sex couples from getting any of the benefits given to opposite-sex married couples under federal law.
Not surprisingly, DoMA was the issue Hensic focused on because, as the partner of a U.S. servicemember, it’s the issue that hits her most directly. “I didn’t realize what a hold DoMA had on my life until I entered this relationship,” she said. “I couldn’t visit her office without written permission. I will not be allowed to share in her health benefits. And if she dies in the service of our country, I will not be the first person to be notified. As an active-duty Marine, my spouse fights for our freedom — including, apparently, the freedom of a majority to vote away our rights.”
“We’re standing on the sunset of discrimination,” said Fernando Lopez, administrative and public affairs director for San Diego Pride. “What if we could wake up tomorrow and the value of our humanity did not depend on the one we love? That is the day we have been fighting for. Our fate does not only rest on nine people in robes. Our quest for equality does not rest with a single court decision. Our fate rests with the people willing to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough.’ The world will change because of you who were strong enough to serve in silence during the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ era, to stand up to bullies, to be the pioneers of our movement or just to hold hands with your lover on the street. You have brought this movement to this point with your fierce tenacity of love and a colorful, creative sense of community.”
The last two participants were from Missiongathering [sic] Neighborhood Church, 3090 Polk in North Park. Missiongathering’s pastor, Richard McCullen, identified himself as an openly Gay evangelical Christian and recalled what happened right after the California Supreme Court allowed same-sex couples to marry in 2008 — a decision reversed by Proposition 8.
A few days after the state court’s ruling became effective in mid-June, McCullen recalled, “I received an e-mail from the pastor of a large mega-church in San Diego inviting me to be part of a brainstorming session on how to reverse this decision. My first thought was that this person obviously didn’t know what I believed or what sort of church mine is, but I decided to go and see why they were so upset. I was surrounded by more than 1,000 religious men and women, who claimed they know a loving God. But their prayers were not of love and peace, but of hate and discrimination. I had to leave because I was so hurt.” McCullen recalled that his elation over the election of President Obama in November 2008 was tempered by the passage of Proposition 8 in the same election.
“Tonight we stand here, religious and non-religious, Gay and straight, not in hate, anger or revenge, but in love,” McCullen said. “Hopefully this summer we will experience equality for all. We cannot leave this moment without the amazing words of Martin Luther King, Jr. that the arc of history is long but that it bends towards justice. Our state and our country are seeing through the hate, and we will no longer be held hostage to it. We will win and equality will win. We stand here in solidarity calling on the Supreme Court to rule for equality.” After McCullen spoke, his “worship & arts pastor,” Colby Martin, came onstage for an impassioned medley of well-known songs, including John Lennon’s “Imagine,” U2’s “One Love” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
Post-Rally Action: Lighting Up I-5
“When you leave here, do not stop,” Fernando Lopez had said in his speech during the rally, and about 75 people took him literally. In an action pre-arranged by the SAME Alliance (formerly San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality) and Overpass Light Brigade, they marched through the streets of downtown San Diego on a circuitous route to the overpass over Interstate 5 at First and Elm. The objective was to display light boards spelling out the words “NO DOMA” and “NO H8” so motorists on the freeway could see them.
The police, out in force for the rally, were momentarily confused by the marchers’ route. “We’re here to protect you; we just need to know where you’re going,” one officer said. Former SAME Alliance president Cecile Veillard, who was leading the march and using a bullhorn to call out chants, ignored the police and told this reporter, “I don’t talk to police.” Eventually SAME Alliance’s current president, Sean Bohac, spoke to the officer and gave a quick overview of the route they planned.
The march was fairly long, doubling back on its route and briefly passing — but not entering — Civic Center Plaza, site of Occupy San Diego’s occupation in late 2011 before the police broke it up. One woman who’d been part of Occupy San Diego marveled at how different the police were treating this action as compared to how they’d handle the occupiers. The people at the overpass were spirited. People took turns pressing the lighted signs against the fence so passing motorists could see them. The police briefly threatened to arrest the people holding the signs, apparently on the idea they could be a threat to traffic, but ultimately let the action continue.
The night’s activities were disrupted only briefly. One woman at the rally started heckling incoherently and Sala asked the police to intervene and have her removed. Later, as the march passed the bus stop on Third and Broadway, a tall man started yelling, “Shut up!,” as the marchers passed by and chanted. Ironically, he was also in the area the next day while supporters of Proposition 8 held their own rally during and after the court hearing on March 26 at the same location — the Federal Building downtown — the opponents had used the night before. He seemed equally hostile to both sides in the debate.
The pro-8 rally drew about one-third the crowd of the marriage equality event the night before. It was much longer and had many more speakers. Though the Queer community and its political allies proclaim a commitment to including people of color and non-English speakers in their movement, it was the pro-8 rally, not the one on the other side, that included at least one speaker in Spanish.