Call it unfair, call it a mess, or call it this generation’s civil rights struggle. Just don’t call the fight over Proposition 8 over.
On the morning of Aug. 4, Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker overruled Prop. 8 in a San Francisco courtroom.
The proposition, which banned same-sex couples from marrying, was passed in November 2008 with 52 percent of the vote. This followed the 2008 state Supreme Court ruling that overturned the 2000 gay-marriage ban.
Walker’s ruling is the latest step toward equality for gays, though it could still be years before the issue is resolved, with the fight likely to go to the U.S. Supreme Court. The opposition called for—and got—an immediate stay on the conditions of the proposition. (Two days later, however, state Attorney General Jerry Brown filed a motion calling for the resumption of same-sex weddings.)
The county’s community of gay-equality activists may hate to admit it, but they have those 52 percent of voters to thank for their newfound fervor. The Orange County Equality Coalition, which offers resources, support, legal help and events dedicated to advancing equality, owes its existence to the passage of Prop. 8, forming just weeks after the proposition was passed. As the Weekly reported in November 2009, the Orange County lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) activism scene before Prop. 8 was a dim spark compared to the vibrant community that has sprung up since.
Following Walker’s ruling, the LGBT community came out in full force. Cities throughout Orange County and Long Beach held rallies to celebrate the win. The gathering the night of the decision at Long Beach’s Bixby Park included public figures and a few hundred people holding rainbow flags, American flags, yellow-and-blue equality stickers and one another. There were couples and families, strollers and dogs, even a few Long Beach Roller Derby girls.
Among the speakers was the Reverend Jerry Stinson from the First Congregational Church.
Looking like a cross between a priest and top-gun pilot with his all-black garb and white collar, short buzz cut, and aviators, Stinson didn’t hesitate to jump into the controversial particulars of the proposition’s passage. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (or the Mormon church) was a major contributor in the campaign; it was fined $5,539 in June by the Fair Political Practices Commission for its failure “to report late, non-monetary contributions totaling $36,928.”
Stinson called Prop. 8 diabolical, spitting out the D with the fire and brimstone that only a preacher can summon. “We need to affirm the value of the wall between church and state,” he told the crowd. “No church, no matter how rich, should be able to push their values on the people.”
The rally’s MC was Ron Sylvester, chairman of the Center in Long Beach, an organization that provides support for the city’s LGBT community. He, like much of the crowd, was celebratory but hesitant. “We do want to celebrate, but it’s not the end,” he said. “We’re really ready for the big win.”
He is hopeful of a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. “This is the fight that the whole nation has watched,” Sylvester said. “If this is the one that starts a cross-country revolution, we’d be proud.”
UC Irvine School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky told CNN that earlier rulings filed in Massachusetts against the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) may reach the Supreme Court first, and a decision on DOMA could have a bearing on how justices eventually rule on Prop. 8. “It’s still a long way before it gets to the Supreme Court,” Chemerinsky cautioned, “and it’s uncertain what they would do.”
But Dr. John C. Eastman, former dean of Chapman University’s School of Law and the current director of the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, thinks the courts should have dismissed Walker before the case began. His reasoning: The judge is not heterosexual. “I do think the fact that he’s had a long-term relationship with another man may disqualify him,” Eastman said, “because . . . he had a financial or other interest [like being able to marry] in the outcome of the litigation.”
According to Eastman, Walker should have clearly presented his orientation at the onset of the case, thereby enabling lawyers to “decide whether or not to waive the potential disqualifying concern.”
Chemerinsky, however, finds Eastman’s objections to Walker’s sexuality preposterous.
“John Eastman is my friend, but [he] should be ashamed for saying that,” Chemerinsky said. “I find that insensitive and nonsense. You would never say that a woman couldn’t hear a sex-discrimination case. We never say that a black judge can’t hear a civil-rights case. Vaughn Walker’s sexual orientation is private and none of anyone’s business.”
Whatever strategy it uses, the opposition is without doubt preparing for war. The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), which is funding and litigating the defense of Prop. 8, is already using the energy of loss to fuel its defense of the proposition.
“We will certainly appeal this disappointing decision,”said ADF senior counsel Brian Raum in a statement released after the ruling. “Its impact could be devastating to marriage and the democratic process. It’s not radical for more than 7 million Californians to protect marriage as they’ve always known it. What would be radical would be to allow a handful of activists to gut the core of the American democratic system and, in addition, force the entire country to accept a system that intentionally denies children the mom and the dad they deserve.”
While the actions taken by both sides have been largely legal, at least one person is concerned about an all-too-real hostile retaliation.
As Geoff Maddox, founder of the website Hate Crime Awareness.org, said at the rally, “When Prop. 8 went on the ballot, people got upset. . . . As exciting as it is, and as great as it makes you feel, it’s also extremely important to be vigilant.”
Marc Solomon, marriage director of Equality California, has hope that Walker’s ruling only encourages the LGBT community. “My greatest hope out of what happened [with the ruling] is that it creates momentum for us,” he said. “It shows us that the work we are all doing collectively brought about this win and it energizes us to tell more stories, to do more of the work, to activate us.”
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Intern Kevin Short contributed to this article.
This article appeared in print as "Eyes On the Prize: Same-sex marriage supporters celebrate a victory, prepare for the war."