By Sam Laird
On Election Day Nov. 7, as Colorado, Tennessee, and several other states voted to ban same-sex marriage, the Santa Cruz City Council made a statement for marriage equality.
The City Council voted unanimously to officially back San Francisco’s drive to legalize same-sex marriage in California, in a special meeting that may have been the briefest meeting the Council has ever conducted. Councilman Ryan Coonerty arrived only eight minutes late to find the meeting had already adjourned.
"Santa Cruz city leaders have always been extremely supportive of gay rights," Mayor Cynthia Matthews told City on a Hill Press (CHP) after the meeting.
In March of 2000, California voters adopted an initiative that added to the California Family Code: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."
San Francisco officials responded in 2004 by issuing some 4,000 marriage licenses to gay couples, a decision that was subsequently challenged in court. Two trials later, a decision by a California appeals court upheld laws limiting marriage to heterosexual couples.
San Francisco submitted the case for review to the California Supreme Court on Nov. 14, and asked for help from other cities around the state, including Santa Cruz, Berkeley, and West Hollywood.
The Santa Cruz City Council’s decision to throw their support behind San Francisco’s appeal was acclaimed by those who attended the meeting.
"Thank you on behalf of the 10,000 gays and lesbians in Santa Cruz County who don’t have the right to be married," said Amy Wirth, Executive Director of the Diversity Center, during the meeting’s public comment period.
Merrie Schaller, Co-Chair of the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender (GLBT) Alliance of Santa Cruz County, was equally pleased with the council’s decision.
"This is a really good place to live," Schaller told CHP. "On a day when several states are actually voting to write inequality into their constitutions, Santa Cruz is standing up for its queer residents."
But the Council’s decision was not warmly received everywhere.
Brad Dacus is the president of the Pacific Justice Institute, a Sacramento-based non-profit organization specializing in the legal defense of religious freedom and parental rights. Dacus believes that the Santa Cruz City Council’s vote is just the latest of many attempts by Santa Cruz area school districts and governments to "push homosexuality."
"There is a lot of diversity among the people of Santa Cruz that is being ignored by the liberal majority," Dacus said. "True tolerance goes both ways."
"The will of the people must be protected and the selective hypocrisy of those trying to redefine marriage will not prevail," he added.
For City Councilmember Tim Fitzmaurice, the decision to vote yes on supporting same-sex marriage was both personal and ideological.
"My uncle lived with a man for 40 years," Fitzmaurice said. "Other than my marriage, that’s the only lasting relationship in my family that I know of. They could never get married. I find that appalling."
After the meeting, GLBT Alliance Co-Chair Schaller described herself as cautiously optimistic regarding the future of same-sex marriage in California.
"The whole dynamic has changed," Schaller said. "Five years ago, the very idea of gay marriage caused conniptions. We’re moving ahead but I hope we don’t get road-blocked by civil unions, as some people are trying to do. Separate but equal has never worked."