The California Supreme Court ruling on May 15th that will allow same-sex couples to marry has galvanized advocates on both sides of this highly-charged issue and has drawn the political, legal and social battle lines in stark terms of equality and traditional lifestyles between dissonant factions on the societal divide.
The court’s decision, celebrated in many corners and condemned in others, puts California, along with Massachusetts, in the vanguard of states that are now granting gays the same privilege that heterosexuals enjoy — the right to become a legal, married couple.
Against this backdrop, there are couples who are happily looking forward to exchanging vows, an opportunity that many thought might never come.
One such pair, Scott Storey and Gary DeLossa of Venice, are enthusiastically planning their ceremony this summer. They will be joined by friends, family and their two sons, Pilot, 3, and one- year-old Cash.
Storey had been monitoring the court’s handling of the same-sex matter prior to the ruling, and both he and his partner were ecstatic when they heard the verdict.
“The moment that it was announced, I called Gary right away,” recalled Storey, a production designer. “I remember getting all choked up when I heard it and being so swept up in the excitement of the moment, because this was a really big decision.”
The ruling struck down a 2002 state law created by Proposition 22 which recognized marriage in the state as only between a man and a woman.
Although the recent court ruling allows same-sex couples to marry, they would remain ineligible for certain federal benefits, including Social Security benefits for spouses and joint filing for federal income taxes.
Chief Justice Ronald M. George wrote the majority opinion in a 4-3 decision that took some by surprise, as the court is made up of six Republicans, although some are considered to be politically moderate.
“The California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples,” George wrote for the majority.
“Our state now recognizes that an individual’s capacity to establish a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person and responsibly to care for and raise children does not depend upon the individual’s sexual orientation,” the chief justice continued. “An individual’s sexual orientation — like a person’s race or gender — does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights.”
Storey and DeLossa, who have been together for nine years, had hoped to get married four years ago when Massachusetts became the first state to allow gays to wed.
“When we heard about the Massachusetts ruling, I was so excited that I went out and bought some Tiffany rings and proposed to Gary on the beach,” Storey remembered.
They were forced to postpone the ceremony after learning that then-Gov. Mitt Romney discovered a 1913 statute that prevents couples outside Massachusetts from exchanging vows in the commonwealth.
DeLossa, who works for an advertising agency, feels that the wrangling over whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry is largely a civil rights matter.
“It’s a matter of looking at gay people as equals to straight people in a genetic sense, a civil sense and a philosophical sense,” he said. “One of my beliefs is that there is still some feeling that homosexuals should not be viewed as equals to heterosexuals.”
The new law that gives them the right to get married is just now sinking in for both men.
“It’s so funny when changes happen in society that seem so abstract that you really can’t get a grasp on them until they hit home,” Storey noted. “You can read about the couples and families that this ruling affects, but when it’s sitting right in your lap, it makes a huge difference.”
The wedding will take place at their home, and a neighbor has offered to host the reception in his large backyard.
Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Venice, will officiate the wedding. Storey and DeLossa met him at a rally in West Hollywood after the State Supreme Court ruling and asked him if he would do the honors.
“I am truly honored that Scott and Gary asked me to officiate their wedding,” the councilman told The Argonaut. “It will certainly be one of the high points of my career to be at their wedding.”
DeLossa and Storey have enjoyed support from family and friends, both gay and straight. Despite the festive atmosphere that will surround their nuptials, they realize that there is an undercurrent that is unavoidable regarding the topic of same-sex marriage.
“There’s a lot of politics around gay marriage, but when it comes right down to it, it’s a really personal issue,” Storey said.
Foes of granting gay couples the right to marry are gearing up to challenge the court’s decision. Many have joined together in an attempt to reverse the verdict by sponsoring a ballot initiative this fall.
“To protect marriage from same-sex intrusion in California, over a million signatures have been gathered to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot ensuring that marriage between a man and a woman is added to the California state constitution,” said the Rev. Louis Sheldon, the chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, a religious and socially conservative themed organization that originated in Anaheim. “The battle in our state will continue until the morning of November 5th, when we know if this constitutional amendment is law by a minimum of 51 percent of the vote.
“In addition, this only sharpens into focus the need for a national, federal amendment to the U.S. Constitution to fully protect marriage between a man and a woman,” said Sheldon.
Many California elected officials have signaled that they will not resist the legal edict.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stated that he would honor the high court’s ruling.
“I respect the court’s decision and as governor, I will uphold its ruling,” he said in a statement. “Also, as I have said in the past, I will not support an amendment to the constitution that would overturn this State Supreme Court ruling.”
And Los Angeles County Supervisors Yvonne Burke and Zev Yaroslavsky sponsored a motion on May 16th that directed county counsel and the registrar to present plans to the board so that it may satisfy all legal and administrative procedures regarding the ruling to make same-sex marriages legal in Los Angeles County.
Rosendahl is encouraged that in a recent poll of California voters, residents 45 and younger seem to be more accepting of nontraditional marriages and the state overall seems to be moving in that direction, although he noted that the electorate in general appears to narrowly support the November initiative.
“There’s been a dramatic shift in society,” said Rosendahl, who is openly gay. “The younger generation has not had to grow up in a closet, as I had to.”
DeLossa admitted that organizations that oppose same-sex marriage are something that he and his partner think about on occasion.
“It’s at the forefront of our minds, of course,” DeLossa acknowledged. “These are the same groups that have tried to gain political power through social causes.”
Storey referred to polls that were taken before and after the Massachusetts law took effect.
“Before the ruling came out, the majority of the population was opposed to same-sex marriages,” he said. “Now that it’s been in place for several years, the same pollster went back and found out that a minority of people are against gay marriage.”
DeLossa agrees with his partner that the court decision was a historic legal precedent but he recognizes that not everyone agrees with it and some are willing to seek to overturn the verdict.
“It is somewhat bittersweet because, while it was a huge victory for gay rights, we’re immediately faced with a group of people who are trying to take that right away,” he said.
Because of the organized opposition, there are many couples they know who are planning to get married as soon as possible in case foes of same-sex marriage succeed in having the state court’s ruling overturned.
“Realistically, there is a window between June and November where couples like us can get married, and we need to talk to as many people as we can to make them aware of that,” said DeLossa. “Unfortunately, there is this political aspect to our wedding, and it’s inescapable to us.”
That is why there is a sense of urgency for many gay couples that Storey and DeLossa know. And despite the political and religious controversy, they, like many of their friends and acquaintances, are committed to their summer wedding, they say.
Storey said that there was one drawback to the rash of weddings that many expect.
“The general thought is that now every weekend for the next year is going to be ruined, because there’s going to be yet another gay wedding to go to,” he said with a hearty laugh. “But that’s a great problem to have.”