By Elizabeth Limbach

This Valentine’s Day, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender couples gathered with their allies at local county clerks’ offices across the country to protest their inability to receive marriage licenses.

Matt Palm, UC Santa Cruz first-year student and youth outreach director for Marriage Equality USA, says that Valentine’s Day was the most appropriate day for the Queer Rights Rally to make a statement about the diversity of love.

“Right now we have less than equal rights, which is like saying we have less than equal love,” Palm said. “Valentine’s Day is about celebrating love and commitment, and what better way to celebrate our relationships than to fight for the rights that most couples take for granted.”

According to Oakland based organization Marriage Equality USA, same-sex partners are denied 1,138 federal rights afforded to married couples. Molly McKay, media director for the organization, explained that participants choose to assemble at the county clerks office each year because the discrimination becomes most visible there.

“Gathering locally allows us to tell our story while putting local faces to the issue,” McKay said. “It is an opportunity to educate people about marriage equality.”

McKay noted that a growing number of county clerks have joined their effort and are increasingly outspoken about not wanting to turn away same sex couples any longer.

Santa Cruz’s own county clerk, Gail Pellerin, is one such city official.

“To me this feels as wrong as not letting women vote, or restricting where African-Americans can sit,” Pellerin said. “Today we are writing this history, and people need to decide what side of history they want to be on.”

In honor of Valentine’s Day, the county clerk’s office performed legal marriages every half hour from noon to midnight on Wednesday.

“The reality is there are people who cannot participate because they are of the same gender,” Pellerin said. “It is sad that it is 2007 and this is where we are.”

Back on The Hill, the UCSC Cantu Queer Center hosted “Vegas-Style Wedding,” a parallel event that ordained mock weddings to celebrate the diversity of relationships while highlighting the injustices of civil marriage. An array of student couples dressed in wedding garb took their pick of a faux Elvis or pretend priest, and “got hitched” while simultaneously making a statement.

Kas Ocasio-Pare, along with other student organizers, planned the event in concurrence with the third anniversary of San Francisco’s same-sex marriages and with hopes of providing a fun way for any couple to celebrate their relationship.

“We wanted to do something where everyone is recognized,” Ocasio-Pare said. “Here you can marry your best friend, your partner, your girlfriend or your boyfriend. We are taking that right back from the courts and back into your own will.”

Together, the mock marriages on campus and the Queer Rights Rally downtown made for a bittersweet Santa Cruz Valentine’s Day, something organizers like Matt Palm hope will not be the case when the holiday rolls around next year.

“Hopefully we won’t have to do this next year,” Palm said. “But we will continue to do it every year until the government has the courage to do the right thing.”