On Nov. 4 of last year, UC Santa Cruz students celebrated the election of the 44th president of the United States with a large victory run that spanned the entire campus. However, the joyful mood was soon dampened when news of the passage of Proposition 8 became known, and students’ hopes for marriage equality in the state of California began to fade.
The proposition added a section to the California Constitution that reads, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
On March 5, the California State Supreme Court heard the oral arguments of three cases challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 8. A 90-day decision period commenced and the fate of 18,000 same-sex marriages that took place before the November election hung in the balance.
On May 26, the court rejected the challenges by a 6-1 vote and further disappointed those who had hoped for the legalization of same-sex marriage. However, the court ruled that the marriages that had occurred before the election would be exempt from the adopted revisions to the California Constitution. Justice Carlos R. Moreno was the only judge to rule that Proposition 8 was invalid.
The arguments addressed in the hearing focused on Proposition 8’s validity, as it constitutes a revision of the California Constitution. The proposition was also questioned for possible violations under the separation of powers doctrine in the California Constitution.
Adriana Lopez, UC Santa Cruz residential educator, and Monica Morales, UCSC alumna, were married in August 2008. Lopez is worried about what the exception to the proposition will mean for their future.
“It’s a very odd position that we’ve been put in, being one of the 18,000 same-sex couples to keep their marriage in California,” Lopez said. “We are not part of the mainstream, and I can see that becoming an obstacle.”
Despite the difficulties arising from the state, Lopez believes her marriage means more than what others think of it.
“We were planning on getting married even before it was legal in the state,” Lopez said. “It was more of a personal recognition of our bond before anything else.
“The main obstacle we faced came from our family’s perception of marriage, but having a family of our own is more important to us than anything else,” Lopez said.
With the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in Maine, there has been more and more talk about what advances California should make in the fight against the ban on same-sex marriage in California.
New York is predicted to be next in line to jump on the same-sex marriage bandwagon that now includes Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont and Iowa. New York governor David A. Paterson broke ground when he introduced a same-sex marriage bill for his state in April.
This latest string of New England states in support of same-sex marriage has increased the LGBT advocates’ drive in California to tackle another ballot measure on the issue by next year.
LGBT Pride in the Community
On campus and in town, students and citizens have been gearing up to fight the court rulings with events and protests.
The people of Santa Cruz and several towns in the surrounding area gathered together on the “Day of Decision” for the California Supreme Court hearing, May 26.
Equality Action Project team member Cathy Andrews organized the event and saw more people there than she had anticipated.
“There were several hundred people there with signs, even though so many folks in Santa Cruz were upset by the decision,” Andrews said.
On campus, a gay pride march from Cowell to Kresge caused many students to get involved and informed about California’s status for same-sex couples.
“It was great to see so many straight and gay people out marching together for the same cause,” said first-year Cowell student Mark Rossow, who participated in the march.
At the UCSC Cantú Queer Center’s GALA Gallery, the photo exhibit entitled “We Now Pronounce You” documents the recent marriages of UCSC staff, students, faculty and alumni. It is open for the spring quarter during the center’s open hours, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Deb Abbott, director of the Cantú Queer Center, said that the photo exhibit gives the stories of each couple, and although the exhibit is a celebration of the marriages, for some of the couples it was a long and strenuous process to be married.
“There are many couples that got married last summer, which is very exciting, but very few people realize that for a long time, those weddings were in limbo,” Abbott said. “There are couples that were forced to get their marriage annulled.”
Santa Cruz’s Stance
Long before the LGBT community was more widely accepted, the city of Santa Cruz took a strong stand in supporting it. In 1983, John Laird, an openly gay man, became mayor of Santa Cruz. As one of the first gay public officials elected in the country, he successfully fought the Briggs Initiative, which attempted to ban gay teachers in schools in California.
“Santa Cruz is particularly accepting of the GBLT community because early on, we did a lot of basic public education and grassroots organizing on the issue,” vice mayor Mike Rotkin said. “The city of Santa Cruz also started one of the first consistent gay pride events in California.”
On June 6, the 17th annual “Dyke March” will take place in Santa Cruz, and the 35th annual LGBT Pride Festival will follow the next day at San Lorenzo Park. With a variety of booths, speakers and entertainers, both events characterize the fervent support of gay pride that can be found in the Santa Cruz community.
With the majority of the fight to legalize gay marriage taking place in the more liberal cities of the state, there are also protests in support of gay marriage taking place in characteristically conservative areas of central California. A rally called “Meet in the Middle for Equality” took place in Fresno at the City Hall last Saturday after the California Supreme Court ruling.
“In communities that are small or not typically progressive it is especially important to have some visibility of GBLT issues and to begin to educate them on the rights they deserve to have,” Abbott said.
In addition to less progressive areas of the state, there are also religious groups that are not accepting of the union between same-sex couples.
Cowell first-year Nick Paterno has faced the difficulties of being an openly gay Catholic head-on.
“At first I stopped going to church because it scared me when the priest said that it was a ‘hellfire damnation’ to be gay,” Paterno said. “I don’t think that most churches support the gay community even if they say they do.”
Reverend David Grishaw-Jones of the First Congregational Church in Santa Cruz expressed the importance of accepting multiple viewpoints within the church community.
“I want to believe our country can be a place where a wide diversity of views and spiritual values are tolerated and welcomed,” Grishaw-Jones said. “What worries and angers me is the attitude among some fundamentalist Christians that theirs is the only view that matters.”
Abbott said that California’s decision was more of a reflection of the financial power of religious groups than a reflection of how the majority of California citizens felt on the issue of same-sex marriage.
“I was not too surprised on the outcome of Prop. 8 because I knew the Mormon and Catholic churches were pouring tons of money into the ‘Yes on 8’ campaign,” Abbott said.
It’s Not Over Yet
It looks like the verdict is finally in: California will uphold Proposition 8, but gay rights activists are not about to give up the fight.
San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom has already begun a petition against the decision to uphold the proposition.
“It is up to every single one of us who supports marriage equality to reach out to those who still disagree with our position and have a personal conversation about why it is so important to treat every Californian equally,” Newsom said on his official Web site.
Additionally, two lawyers from California, Theodore B. Olson and David Boies, filed a challenge to the recent upholding of Proposition 8 in the federal court on May 26. They each plan to defend their argument that not giving same-sex couples full marriage rights is a “violation of the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
“The individuals that we represent and will be representing in this case feel they’re being denied their rights and they’re entitled to have a court vindicate those rights,” Olson said on the Web site of LGBT newsmagazine The Advocate.
Well-known celebrity blogger Perez Hilton made clear his stance on the fight against Proposition 8 at the star-studded “No H8” rally in Los Angeles the day after the decision was made.
“I am not going to stop my fight until homophobia no longer exists,” Hilton said.
Advocates of same-sex marriage are planning to address the issue in the California Supreme Court and continue to take it to the ballot box every year until the fight is won.
Vice Mayor Rotkin is particularly hopeful that the attitudes will turn toward same-sex marriage.
“It is only a matter of time until gay marriage is legal in all states in the U.S.,” Rotkin said.