Proposition 8 Challenge

D.C.'s Minter leads court challenge, while local couples weigh options

In the wake of Californians voting to pass Proposition 8, a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages that trumps an earlier California Supreme Court ruling that extended equal marriage rights to gays and lesbians, there’s a common question being asked — including by locals who made the trek west to tie the knot: Are those marriages still valid?

The short answer, according to Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the lead counsel in the California case for same-sex marriage, is yes.

”Proposition 8 has nothing to do with people who are already married,” says Minter, a transgender man who lives in D.C. with his spouse. ”It only prevents couples from getting married in the future.”

But if Minter and his allies have their way, Proposition 8 is by no means a done deal.

”We have filed an original petition in the California Supreme Court on behalf of six individuals and … Equality California, asking the court to invalidate Proposition 8,” Minter says. The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal have also joined the legal fight against Proposition 8.

”The California Constitution itself makes it very clear that a change to one of the underlying principles of our state constitution cannot be enacted through a simple majority vote,” Minter continues. ”It has to be done through a more deliberative process. So the question is, does Proposition 8 significantly change a core, underlying principle of our constitution? We think that the answer is absolutely yes. It’s eliminating the principle of equal protection. If you can take away equal protection from one minority group, you can take it away from any group, and that’s a very dangerous change.”

With that principle in mind, and support from a variety of sources including Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who voiced opposition to Proposition 8 during a Nov. 9 CNN interview, Minter says he feels he has a ”strong argument” in favor of same-sex marriage.

And While he wasn’t surprised with the passage of Proposition 8, Minter admits he was still ”very disappointed” with the vote.

”The idea of putting the rights of gay people up for a popular vote is so offensive and shocking to start with, it should never have happened. Putting any minority’s rights up for a vote should not happen, but certainly with gay people there’s still so much bias and misinformation, that that is a monumental task to defeat. But we almost did.”

Maryland resident H. Alexander Robinson, chief executive officer of the D.C.-based National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), a GLBT-advocacy group, says that on election night his spirits remained high despite Proposition 8’s move toward passage.

”My excitement about Barack Obama’s election overshadowed everything,” Robinson says. ”That moment, the history of that, the pride that I feel about that as an African-American man, the amount of hope and optimism that it brought to both Greg and I, made us feel really, really good. There was disappointment with the passage of Proposition 8, but it felt more like a setback than a final verdict. It was something that I strongly believe that we are going to turn around and that, God willing, I will live to see it.”

Robinson and his husband, Greg Satorie, exchanged vows during a small ceremony in San Francisco on Oct. 21. They plan on celebrating locally with friends and family, sometime in December.

”We’re in a committed relationship and we are both religious people,” says Robinson, a member of the Orthodox Church of America. Sartorie is affiliated with the Metropolitan Community Church and the United Church of Christ.

”We felt that both in our faith and spiritual traditions, it was important [to get married]. But it’s also important as we think about our desire to protect our property, to be able to have that really public and official recognition of our relationship. For all those reasons we decided that … we were going to [get married] in a way that was official.”

Tom Beach, who works for the federal government, and his partner of 11 years, Michael Harrod, wed in Santa Ana, Calif., on Oct. 27 in what Beach describes as a ”small, private and low-key affair” in a park overlooking the ocean.

”The minister was a little choked up because I think this was one of the last weddings he was doing before [the] Proposition 8 [vote],” he says, adding that the D.C.-based couple, who are registered as domestic partners in the District, lived in Southern California from 2001 to 2002, and have friends there. They wanted to get married for a variety of reasons, including hoping to one day be recognized as a married couple by the federal government.

”It was just completely do-able, and acceptable, and legal. It wasn’t confrontational, it wasn’t a statement, it was merely just available to have done, and that was really the wonderful part about it.”

Both couples say that if necessary, they will re-tie the knot in Connecticut, set to begin offering equal marriage Nov. 12.

”Having grown up in D.C., I find it very problematic and disturbing how emotional, political issues can be used as tools to either gain power, make money or distort the truth,” says Beach. ”I think a lot of that is playing out where pastors in California are preaching discrimination to empower themselves. Those of us, like Michael and I, are the scrap metal. We’re the ‘roadkill’ in all this. We get left behind even though it’s our issue.”

With the struggle to defeat Proposition 8 in court still ahead, Minter says he’s encouraged by the galvanizing effect it’s already had.

”We’ve seen just an uprising of the gay community here in California, and in other states now,” he says. ”Three thousand people turned out in downtown Salt Lake City to protest Proposition 8. There are protests happening in New York and other states. There’s a real opportunity to mobilize and organize our community in a way that hasn’t happened since our community’s response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

”I think this is a wake-up call for a lot of people who are very complacent and somehow thinking that we don’t have to fight for our rights, thinking, ‘I don’t need to do anything myself.’ A lot of people got a wake up call about that. I hope it sticks.”

Join the Impact, a national, grassroots effort to protest passage of California’s Proposition 8, is planning to hold a local rally and march Saturday, Nov. 15, beginning at 1:30 p.m. The tentative site for the rally is outside the U.S. Capitol. For more information, e-mail kellan.baker@gmail.com, or visit JoinTheImpact.

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