California’s new era of same-sex marriage

June 24, 2008

Camille White-Avian reports on the scene of joy and pride as the first same-sex marriages were performed in California

"I NEVER thought this was going to happen, to tell you the truth," Clara Brock told the San Francisco Chronicle June 16 after her friends Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon--together for 55 years--were married as the era of same-sex marriages began in California.

In the wake of a California Supreme Court decision overturning a law banning gay marriage, couples lined up when the day finally arrived. In San Francisco, a crowd of 300 or so activists, supporters, reporters and community members met the couples outside with shouts of joy, as the San Francisco Gay/Lesbian Freedom Band played, Ben & Jerry's gave out free ice cream, and a huge cake was cut and passed around to activists.

Several antigay bigots holding signs and talking into a bullhorn came to protest, but they were drowned out by loud chants of "Racist, sexist, antigay, right-wing fascists go away!"

The crowd celebrated June 16 and 17 as the marriages continued, each one ending with the happy couples leaving city hall to a chorus of cheers.

A crowd gathered outside San Francisco's City Hall to celebrate the first same-sex marriages
A crowd gathered outside San Francisco's City Hall to celebrate the first same-sex marriages (Matt Swagler | SW)

Rev. Michele Bowen felt that the historic day was the result of many years of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists speaking out. "There are people here who are in their 80s, who have been out here for a long time, and look at how far we have come because of them," Bowen said. "Unless people keep plugging at it, things won't change."

Peter Smith saw the legalization of gay marriage as a continuation of the civil rights struggle. "Not letting certain people ride in the front of the bus, not letting certain people go to certain schools, not allowing people of different races to marry--now people see these things as obvious mistakes of the past," said Smith. "Hopefully, people will soon see not allowing us to marry as mistake of the past as well."

Bronwyn Heaps felt that the recent shift toward greater public support for gay marriage rights was part of the reason for the court's decision. "I think there has been a big move toward more people accepting marriage rights for all in California, and combined with tight arguments that our side has been preparing for years, this is what shifted the Supreme Court," said Heaps.

Although many marriages have taken place in the last few days, there are cities in California, such as Bakersfield, where gay people are still denied this human right. The right-wing anti-gay marriage group Campaign for Children and Families (CCF), after failing to stop the marriages, asked county clerks to deny licenses to same-sex couples until after the outcome of a November statewide ballot initiative that would bar the unions.

Kern County clerk Ann Barnett released a statement last week saying that the department will no longer perform civil ceremonies, citing budget problems. This means that the fight for same-sex marriage isn't over. Activists have to demand that Bakersfield allow these families the rights they deserve.

Rosa Huerzo, Jess Kochick and Matt Swagler contributed to this article.

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