By James Clark
Politics & Culture Reporter
The California Supreme Court ruled against the state’s ban on same-sex marriages on May 15. The 4–3 ruling found that the state constitution protects the right to marry for all couples, and is scheduled to take effect on June 14. This makes California and Massachusetts the only states to currently allow full marriage rights for same-sex couples.
The ruling confers the same benefits to same-sex couples as it does to heterosexual couples, except for federal government benefits such as Social Security.
The court ruling brought relief to many within the gay and lesbian community, especially to those who participated in the weddings four years ago when San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples on the steps of San Francisco City Hall. The weddings, which began February 11, 2004, continued until March 11 of that year when halted by the California Supreme Court.
Lynn Kameny, who has been with her partner since 2000, described getting married in San Francisco in 2004.
“When we did get married, it really felt different,” Kameny said. “I had a marriage certificate like anyone else. I didn’t need to have some other designation. It made me realize how much of a second-class citizen I felt like.”
Kameny described her excitement at the thought of walking into the courthouse in Alameda, where she lives, and applying for a marriage license.
“It was amazing to go to [San Francisco], but we knew it would get taken away,” she said. “I think walking into the courthouse here will be surreal — knowing that unless some profound forces come together, it’s probably going to stick.”
Although the court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, opposition is already being mounted to repeal the decision. Margaret Crosby, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, warned that California’s fight for equality in marriage isn’t over.
“The people opposed to same-sex marriage have already submitted 1 million signatures for an initiative to be on the November ballot,” Crosby said.
She is still waiting to hear whether sufficient numbers of valid signatures have been submitted to put the initiative on the ballot. However, Crosby cautioned against complacency.
“I am encouraged by the fairness and open-mindedness of California voters,” she said. “I am hopeful that we will defeat [the initiative], but it will be a huge battle.”
With a potentially difficult election ahead, proponents for same-sex marriage are working to galvanize support.
The California Council of Churches (CCC) and California Church IMPACT (CCI) collectively represent over 1.5 million members of different denominations of Protestant and Orthodox Christian communities and allies from other faiths.
Their website, calchurches.org, describes the roles of the two organizations. It states, “The Council offers you thoughtful support for congregational and individual discernment on difficult topics, while IMPACT has a strong spiritual activist presence at the state and federal capitols, lobbying around legislation that has changed people’s lives.”
CCI is an advocate for same-sex marriage and is in the process of raising support for the November ballot.
Elizabeth Sholes, the director of public policy for CCC and CCI, spoke about the role the groups and their congregations are playing regarding same-sex marriage.
“Our position on this is quite well-known amongst our denominations,” Sholes said. “Mostly people understand that we’re trying to stand for true equality.”
Sholes added that CCC and CCI do take political stances and will be opposing the November initiative vigorously.
“What we’re hoping is that this Supreme Court ruling will call on people of good will in and outside of faith communities to think about what equality means,” she said.
Sholes described how CCC and CCI break the status quo regarding Christian and Protestant congregations and their stances on same-sex marriage.
“The state has no business discriminating between grown consenting adults — not one single church will be required to bless a civil marriage,” Sholes said, adding that “churches that are uncomfortable can remain so, and those that want to [wed same-sex couples], can do this.”
Sholes was bothered by the push to overturn the Supreme Court ruling.
“We hope people understand that this is entirely an issue of personal choice about marriage,” Sholes said. “We think it’s a great step forward, and are sorry we’ll have to fight the ballot fight.”
CCC and CCI aren’t the only religious organizations to acknowledge and support same-sex marriage. Rosalind Glazer is a Rabbi for Congregation Beth Israel-Judea, located in San Francisco.
Glazer, who is the first female and openly gay rabbi in her congregation, talked about the first wedding that she participated in.
“The first couple that I wed was back when I was empowered by the clergy to do liturgical music at weddings,” she said. “I did my first lesbian wedding about 15 years ago. We may wear conventional dress, but we’re open in our mindset and social attitudes.”
Ari Mark Cartun, who has been a rabbi for 34 years and officiates at Congregation Etz Chayim in Palo Alto, offered an alternative perspective on marriage.
“Instead of fighting over what kinds of marriage a state should recognize,” Cartun said, “it should have a set of laws that should apply if people want to be married, for whoever wants it.”