By Michael Aushenker
West Hollywood was not the only local community celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court’s defeat of a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on June 26. That evening, spontaneous celebrations broke out all over Los Angeles, including the Westside.
One such party took place at the Venice home of photographer Sunny Bak, where about 25 guests, mostly women of both lesbian and heterosexual persuasions, gathered on the fly to drink in the news, which, according to guests, ranged from very positive to cautiously promising.
A few hours after the Supreme Court’s 5-4 verdict against DOMA came down, thus allowing for same-sex marriages in California, Bak, a veteran artistic and commercial photographer, took to social media to improvise an early evening party. Most of Bak’s guests were from the Westside’s coastal communities.
“I’m feeling good about the world right now!” said Sarah Allyn of Marina del Rey, who added that she and her boyfriend were thrilled about the verdict’s implications.
In tandem with the court’s condemnation of the federal marriage law came a 5-4 rejection of an appeal by private sponsors of California’s Proposition 8, the ballot measure intended to define marriage as a contract between a man and a woman. The implication of these two measures being defeated suggested California would become the 13th state to legalize gay marriage. Of the 37 states forbidding same-sex marriage, 29 have state constitutional measures defining marriage as between a man and a woman, which neither state judges nor lawmakers can easily transmute.
Neighbor Carissa Tedesco dropped by Bak’s party, as did Theresa Holliday, a Marina del Rey-based caterer. Holliday wants to see her gay friends enjoy the same rights she does.
Venice resident Doreen Donoghue, who characterized herself as the rebellious product of conservative parents (both are lawyers and devout Christians), was “overwhelmed in the present that my friends can express their love for one another.”
“This ruling makes me hopeful that America’s promise of equality is becoming a reality,” commented Helen Djukic of El Segundo, an occasional Venice Art Crawl curator. “As an ordained minister, I have performed more than 150 weddings in the past 20 years. I have had the honor of witnessing what happens when a couple prepares to marry. It’s an amazing transformation in their relationship and in their lives. Love is great.”
Opponents of the decision, such as American Values President Gary Bauer, believe the U.S. is caught in a culture war in which the country’s Judeo-Christian spine is “being ripped from its back.” He told the Los Angeles Times last week that the media focuses too much on the marriage rights issue when the underlying battle is over religious liberty.
Among the lesbian contingent at Bak’s party, Carra Greenberg, a Beverly Hills-based family law and adoption attorney, sipped from a flute of champagne as she discussed “14 Words: The Story of California’s Proposition 8,” her upcoming feature-length documentary. The film (her first) explores both sides of the same-sex marriage issue. “‘14 Words’ came out of a lack of information on my part,” said Greenberg. She also formed her non-profit Prop 8 Films in response to the lack of legal information available to the broader public after November 2008’s passage of Proposition 8.
Although Greenberg’s personal views break against DOMA, she fought to be objective in making her documentary, filming segments of people on both sides of the controversial issue.
“Our democracy is best served when well-informed individuals can engage in intelligent discussions,” she said.
In fact, Greenberg found the opposition’s argument strikingly cohesive.
“They all (sounded rational),” she said of the earnest, educated, white-collar professionals she interviewed. “That’s the shocking part.”
Sipping champagne inside Bak’s kitchen, Venice’s Monica Palacios celebrated “the fact that I’ve been a lesbian performer for 31 years and I didn’t think I’d see this day. I feel victorious. I’m very happy and honored to be a part of it.”
One of Palacios’ friends, Christi Cristl, explained that, at 46, it will take years before she can truly become comfortable, even in an open society. For too long, as a lesbian, she says she didn’t have to look far to find discrimination. Never mind rural places such as in the Midwest, she said that she can feel the tension “even in Santa Monica, if you go north of Montana (Avenue).”
Another lesbian, who did not want her name published, shared with The Argonaut a cynical view of why the ruling prevailed: namely, for the industries surrounding life-cycle events such as weddings.
“Money greases the wheel,” she said, believing the recent economic downturn had much to do with its passage. “We’re a bankrupt nation.”
She said she plans to move to Germany, where she feels there is less drama about public displays of osculation between gays.
“(President) Bill Clinton was my hero,” she said. “But his legacy is DOMA.”
Bak, who recently broke up with her fiancé after a decade-long relationship, said, “I’m happy for this victory, but the fight is not over. Not all 50 states approve of gay marriage.”
One guest pointed out how California, often a constitutional trendsetter, was quicker to legalize medical marijuana than to adopt gay marriage.
Beyond America, Bak observed there are still cultures in Africa and in Asia where homosexual activity is “punishable by death.”
On Bak’s Facebook page last Wednesday, the photographer facetiously asked her friends what would be the gayest song to play at her party. Amid the usual suspects – Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.,” Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”– another tune cut through the clutter: Queen’s “We Are the Champions.”
Such elation, however, is tempered by reality.
“We’re enjoying the victory today,” Bak said, “but tomorrow, the fight’s back on. We still have a way to go.”