Local proponents of same-sex marriage took to the streets in a boisterous yet peaceful demonstration following the May 26th ruling by the California Supreme Court that upheld Proposition 8, the controversial 2008 ballot initiative that denied gay and lesbian couples the right to marry under state law.
The ballot measure passed by a slim margin on November 4th.
Over 100 demonstrators began their march at the Church in Ocean Park in Santa Monica several hours after the court ruling was announced and continued down Main Street, where they were greeted with honks and waves by passing motorists.
The rally ended at the Santa Monica Courthouse, where dozens expressed their thoughts on what should be the next step in the incendiary battle for gay and lesbian couples to obtain the legal right to marry.
Despite the legal setback, the protesters appeared to be in relatively good spirits.
“I thought that the (rally) was very upbeat,” said Rev. Janet McKeithen, a minister at the Church in Ocean Park, a long-time bastion for social change in Santa Monica. “A lot of people told me later that it was very empowering.”
In a victory for many same-sex couples, the court voted to leave intact the more than 18,000 marriages that took place prior to the initiative’s passage in November.
Chief Justice Ronald George, who was roundly criticized by conservative groups for his decision that allowed gay and lesbian partners to wed in a 4-3 May 2008 vote, wrote the majority opinion for the court.
“It is not our role to pass judgment on the wisdom or relative merit of the current provisions of the California Constitution governing the means by which our state constitution may be altered. . . In the absence of an explicit subject-matter limitation on the use of the initiative to propose and adopt constitutional amendments . . . we conclude the existing provisions of the California Constitution governing amendment and revision cannot properly be interpreted in the manner advocated by petitioners,” the chief justice wrote.
“Accordingly, we hold that Proposition 8 constitutes a constitutional amendment rather than a constitutional revision.”
Associate Justice Carlos Moreno was the lone dissenter in the court’s decision.
“In my view, the aim of Proposition 8 and all similar initiative measures that seek to alter the California Constitution to deny a fundamental right to a group that has historically been subject to discrimination on the basis of a suspect classification, violates the essence of the equal protection clause of the California Constitution and fundamentally alters its scope and meaning,” Moreno wrote.
“Such a change cannot be accomplished through the initiative process by a simple amendment to our constitution enacted by a bare majority of the voters; it must be accomplished, if at all, by a constitutional revision to modify the equal protection clause to protect some, rather than all, similarly situated persons.”
Religious and conservative organizations cheered the verdict.
“The people of California have spoken by affirming traditional marriage. It is time to move on,” stated Mathew D. Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and the dean of the Liberty University School of Law, who argued the case. “By a mere 14 words that reaffirm the historic and common-sense definition of marriage, the people have restored common sense and the rule of law to California.”
While many at the Santa Monica demonstration voiced their displeasure with the court verdict, others pledged to continue the fight for same-sex marriages and the possibility of launching their own ballot measure during next year’s election.
Ben Allen, a member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, was one of the first speakers to address the enthusiastic crowd.
“I’m so proud that our school district was one of the first to grant full benefits to same-sex couples,” Allen, who was elected to the school board in 2008, told the audience.
Heterosexual couples were also part of the rally. Nancy Greshke said that she came because of a personal experience that she had growing up in Mississippi.
“We had to hide the fact that we were Jewish,” Greshke, a Santa Monica resident, said. “So I’m here to say that (Proposition 8) is about civil rights.”
Greshke, who came with several friends, said that her family history was a motivating factor in her decision to attend the protest.
“My grandfather was involved with the Ku Klux Klan,” she told The Argonaut. “We couldn’t tell people that we were Jewish.
“Now is not the time to hide who you are.”
McKeithen, who as a United Methodist minister performed same-sex marriages last year prior to the passage of Prop. 8, was pleased that many of the protesters where heterosexual, like Greshke.
“About half of them were young children and teenagers as well,” McKeithen added.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also took a stand against the initiative following the ruling and indicated that he thought that another ballot measure in 2010 could be inevitable.
“While there is much to criticize in (the May 26th) court decision and there will be plenty of debates about our path forward, one thing is clear: This debate will rest in the hands of the people,” the mayor said in a statement. “And that might just be the best place for it because the fight for equality is not about morality or religion, our schools or our places of work.”
Villaraigosa added that the right to marry is about more than politics or religious views.
“It’s about real people and real human beings. It’s about men and women trying to lead successful lives with those they love. It’s about parents hoping to raise a family and ready to accept the responsibilities that come along with a lifelong commitment to your spouse and your children,” he said.
On Wednesday, May 27th, a lawsuit to invalidate the results of Prop. 8 was filed in federal court. Attorneys Theodore Olson and David Boies held a press conference at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles to announce their joint venture in seeking to overturn the initiate.
Ironically, the two men were on opposing sides of the aisle when they faced off nine years ago over the Florida election controversy during the 2000 presidential campaign, with Olson representing then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Boies on the side of former Vice President Al Gore, Jr.
Andrew Pugno, the general counsel of www.ProtectMarriage.com/ called the state supreme court’s ruling a “great victory” for the people of California and for the “millions of supporters” of traditional marriage.
“We commend the California Supreme Court for upholding the right of the people to define marriage in our constitution,” Pugno said. “The court recognized that the power to amend the constitution ultimately belongs to the people.
“For the second time now, the people have decided that marriage is reserved for a man and a woman and the court has appropriately respected their decision.”
McKeithen said that her church has held discussions with parishioners and others about what the next step in the battle over the right to marry should be, whether through the courts or the initiative process.
“There are a lot of different opinions about what to do next,” the minister said. “It’s a very divided issue.”
The church will hold another discussion forum at 7 p.m. Monday, June 8th at 235 Hill St. in Santa Monica.