On March 5th the California Supreme Court met to hear arguments concerning the constitutionality of Proposition 8, a hateful ballot measure which was passed by a narrow majority of voters banning same-sex marriage. Opponents of the measure held a march and candlelight vigil the night before and I’m proud to say that I know the one person arrested during the speeches. The official version of the story has the detention as a drunk and disorderly but just because “we don’t march before cocktails”, doesn’t mean that storming the stage and screaming “bullshit” in a fit of rage is a drunken or disorderly act.
Many things have happened five years after San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom galvanized the bigots and last week’s court hearing is in many ways the rambling result of his unique sense of political activism. On February 12th, 2004, gay couples descended upon City Hall to take part in the National Freedom to Marry protest and were shocked to find city officials handing out legal certificates. The gears had been set in motion several days prior when Newsom announced he wanted the city to explore ways of allowing gay couples to be wed, possibly in response to Massachusetts overturning a state ban on gay marriage. Word spread that homophobic organizations were planning on appealing to the courts to block any attempts by the city to marry gays. The county clerk’s office prepared gender-neutral applications under the watchful gaze of attorneys while phone calls were made to a select few gay and lesbian rights groups. Just past eleven in the morning the city’s assessor-recorder Mabel Teng performed the first ceremony between Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon who had been together for fifty years.
Alleged Christians were sickened to see genuinely loving couples who had been long treated as second-class citizens exchanging vows but their crusading efforts to file an immediate injunction were blocked as the state courts were closed in observance of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Eventually lawsuits were filed against San Francisco to halt proceedings and Lambda Legal, The National Center for Lesbian Rights and the ACLU stepped in to represent the couples who had been, or simply wanted to be, married; meanwhile two couples in Los Angeles sued the city demanding their basic human rights be recognized. By August of that same year the courts invalidated nearly four thousand marriages stating that Newson, acting as mayor, had overstepped the boundaries of authority as marriage was governed by the state.
This was only the beginning of court battles addressing the issue of gay marriage. The various cases opened in California were condensed into one pitting hair-brained ideology or outright bigotry against equality. Superior Court judge Richard Kramer began deliberations at the end of the year and announced in March of 2005 that a ban on same-sex marriage was illegal and that the concept of domestic partnership laws, the separate but equal bone tossed to the gays where they are a strong enough political base, were invalidated by the precedent set by Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling in 1954. Hate groups screamed, “activist judge!”, quoted Bibles and immediately sent the decision to the court of appeals. Over the next year and a half the case wound its way through the courts and in October of 2006 three appellate judges upheld California’s right to ban gay-marriage.
Petitions were filed for the state Supreme Court to reverse the decision, a case which the court decided unanimously to hear. Another year and a half of legal wrangling eventually led to a ruling, in May of 2008, which specified that barring gays and lesbians from marrying violated their constitutional rights. Hate mongers, frothing at the mouth and holding their children’s ears, begged the court to delay the decision until after November’s general election to which the court and the state attorney general responded, get fucked. Marriages resumed with Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon being wed again, this time by a smiling Gavin Newsom. In November Californians decided that they were too terrified of having their divorce rates and deranged children upstaged by a bunch of fags and voted to ban gay-marriage altogether. Proposition 8’s passage initiated a new series of court hearings to determine whether the will of the voters was enough to decide who is treated equally and with arguments heard a ruling must be issued within the next ninety days.
It’s difficult to ascertain the impact of Newsom’s decision to push gay-marriage into the national spotlight, particularly as Massachusetts became the first state to legally marry gay and lesbian couples. What is undeniable is that a wave of gay-marriage bans swept through the nation in the wake and some pundits have suggested that these initiatives may have swayed states like Ohio towards Bush in 2004. While the prospect of the Supreme Court overturning the lower court’s decision obviously pushed hate groups towards landing Proposition 8 on the ballot if it is overturned California would become the second state in The Land of the Free to allow people to marry one another without bullshit rhetoric and thinly veiled prejudice standing in the way.
How hands on has Newsom been through all of this? Dennis Herrera, the City Attorney, took over the case once the original court ruling invalidated the marriages of 2004. Newsom’s been a vocal supporter of equal rights throughout the proceedings but has not been in any official capacity. Even now that he’s considering a run for governor he hasn’t toned down his support, despite the fact that regardless of the outcome his actions have proven to be unpopular across political demographics. Perhaps this is why his father told him not to run, according to an e-mail the big guy sent me some weeks back (sorry Gav, been real busy), but what’s even more bizarre is that Newsom will dilute his already weak chances for taking Sacramento but refuses to back Tom Ammiano’s proposal to legalize and regulate (i.e.: tax) marijuana, presumably because of the fierce opposition this would create amongst well funded law enforcement and hysterical mother groups. If Newsom does snub his father’s advice and make a real go of it, which he may as well do since we’re paying for his entourage to accompany him around on his exploratory expeditions, it promises to be an interesting campaign.
Picture of Gav is from his website and was taken by someone too humble to take credit. The picture of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon being married was swiped from NPR and was taken by Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP. Special thanks to Lambda Legal and their excellent timeline of events.