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A Leap Forward

news1Santa Cruzans look ahead after Supreme Court decisions on Prop. 8 and DOMA

The Supreme Court’s recent same-sex marriage rulings weren’t landslide victories for LGBT Americans, says Sharon Papo, executive director of The Diversity Center in Santa Cruz, but they were momentous steps forward.

“It’s a great day,” Papo told GT on Wednesday, June 26, the day of the court’s rulings, “but there are still 37 states that treat gay and lesbian Americans and their children as second-class citizens. We are celebrating, but there is still work to be done.”

At a jovial rally on the Santa Cruz County Courthouse steps that evening, Papo encouraged the crowd to, “Bring on the love, bring on the healing, and let the marriages begin!”

The crowd of about 250 supporters of marriage equality gathered to celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which denied a wide array of federal benefits to same sex couples, is unconstitutional. In a separate decision, equally divided, the Supreme Court also ruled to dismiss an appeal and uphold a federal district court decision that struck down California’s Proposition 8, which was passed by voters in 2008 and maintained “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” The decision opens the door for same-sex marriages in California.   

Although the court avoided a sweeping ruling on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage that would apply to all states, Papo says the fact that the nation’s highest court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in these instances bodes well.

“It’s very validating that the Supreme Court was so affirmative in their statement about supporting fairness and equality,” she tells GT. “I think we have hit the tipping point. We aren’t there, but we are over the curve. The Supreme Court itself stated in their decision—14 times—that marriage is a fundamental right, so we aren’t there yet but we are on our way.”

news1-2Santa Cruzans turn out to celebrate the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage rulings on Wednesday, June 26. From left to right, Lynne, Ann and Gracie Sansevero.The court had many Americans on the edge of their seats as the month of June came to an end. As the end of the court’s term neared and long-awaited rulings began trickling out, the outlook for the Prop. 8 and DOMA decisions remained murky. On Tuesday, June 25, SCOTUS voted 5-4 in a case, Shelby County v. Holder, that invalidates part of the Voting Rights Act. Santa Cruz’s congressional representative, Sam Farr, had this to say about that decision: “I am disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision to turn the clock back on equality by delivering a major setback to voting rights in this country.”

In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act, both Merrie Schaller, co-chair of the GLBT Alliance, and David Yule, who spoke at the rally on behalf of the GLBT Alliance, stressed that the victory for same-sex marriage was “bittersweet.”

Yule recalled the recent 50th anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in his comments at the rally, and noted with criticism that the same Supreme Court that “gave us freedom to marry” issued a ruling two days earlier that “essentially gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

Because it wasn’t known until the morning of June 26 what the tone of the Santa Cruz rally would be, the celebration was swiftly organized by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender (GLBT) Alliance and The Diversity Center the morning of the announcement. It included speakers from organizations across the county, including churches and labor unions that had labored for this outcome for a number of years.     

“Equality is what this is all about,” said David Weiss, a local tax attorney. “A big measure of justice happened today, and we’re here to celebrate it.” Weiss’s wife, Patti, pointed to a sign they brought to the rally that she said captured everything she had to say. The sign read: “‘We love our gay daughter and her wife and our grandson!”

The Santa Cruz County Clerk’s Office, responsible for issuing marriage licenses in accordance with state law, stopped issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples after Prop. 8 was passed in November 2008, after issuing about 60 such marriage licenses that year. Tricia Webber, assistant county clerk, spoke at the rally on behalf her boss, County Clerk Gail Pellerin, who was vacationing in Greece the day of the announcement. 

“We want to marry you, and we’re ready to marry you, as soon as we are given permission to do so, ” Webber said at the rally.

A delay of around 30 days is expected before counties across the state are authorized by the Attorney General’s Office to actually begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This window allows opponents to request a rehearing. By the end of the business day of the announcement on June 26, five couples had placed their name on a waiting list at the County Clerk’s office for appointments to receive marriage licenses.

A statement from Pellerin on the County Clerk’s website read, “I am thrilled with the outcome and look forward to issuing marriage licenses and conducting marriage ceremonies for our same-sex couples as soon as possible. … The County Clerk’s Office is awaiting information from the District Court and the State as to the date when we can begin issuing marriage licenses and conducting wedding ceremonies for all couples. … We will keep couples apprised of our plans on our website at sccoclerk.com.”

Congressman Sam Farr called it a “historic day for marriage equality” in a statement released June 26.

“For far too long our nation has treated same-sex couples as a lower class of citizens,” read the statement. “Thankfully that ends for millions of loving couples today. Unfortunately, the majority of the states still do not recognize same-sex marriages and the Court’s rulings will sadly do nothing to change that. We still have lots of work ahead of us. However, these rulings are a giant leap forward and I am certain one day marriage equality will be a right for all Americans.”

But Natalie Steinberg, wife of Merrie Schaller, explained that while the ruling on the unconstitutionality of DOMA on the federal level was straightforward, she thought the decision with regard to California’s Prop. 8 failed to give a clear ruling on the authority of states to deny the same-sex couples the right to marry.

“The ruling on Prop. 8 was simply a ruling on standing, that upheld another federal court’s decision that Prop. 8 was unconstitutional,” Steinberg explained. “So we will still have a patchwork … there will be states where same-sex couples are denied state rights, but will have federal rights. It was a very state rights-oriented decision, which I think is overly narrow and fairly gutless, but probably the best outcome we could expect from this particular court.”   

UC Santa Cruz associate professor of psychology Phillip Hammack says the rulings “when taken together with public opinion data, suggest a sea change in our culture for gays and lesbians.”

“As a social psychologist, I think about issues like the effects of stigma or support for harassment and violence, as well as the effects of unequal treatment (social injustice) on how gays and lesbians view themselves and their relationships,” he says. “I think we are clearly moving toward a radical new context for gays and lesbians—the stigma is lifting (more quickly than I might have imagined 10 years ago), their relationships are increasingly being recognized as legitimate and worthy of recognition, and their struggle is being seen more and more through the lens of basic civil rights.”

Looking forward, Hammack says the next step for LGBT civil rights will be to look more closely at local communities “to really get the microscope in on how gays and lesbians in different types of communities across the nation are faring.” 

Photo: Jeremey Bot

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