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California’s Battle For Marriage Equality

Join EQCA & Gay Fresno on Valentines Day by requesting a marriage license from Fresno County as an LGBT couple or individual…see CALENDAR for details… 

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I sat down recently to talk with Molly McKay, Field Director for Equality California, www.eqca.org  during her visit to Fresno for a meeting with EQCA’s local chapter leaders. We discussed the issue of marriage equality in California and what we can expect in 2006. While the battle rages on, Molly is confident California is on the edge of the legalization of gay marriage.
 

Until that day comes, we can’t slow down in our efforts to do everything to educate and inform Californians about the consequences to LGBT individuals if we continue to be denied the right to marry. Molly shared with me a story of a senior gay couple who’d been together for 50 years. When one partner died, the other was left with nothing, literally no place to live. These are the kind of things that need to be made clear to those not supporting equal civil rights for gay people. It’s difficult to believe that in the United States Of America, the greatest country on Earth, many of our fellow citizens, while often risking everything to commit to an openly gay relationship, may be left with none of the protections afforded our heterosexual counterparts.


Two states may actually end up beating California to the equality table. Both Washington and New Jersey are close to a decision regarding same-sex marriage rights. It’s ironic that California, the most powerful and diverse state in our country, may end up being less influential in the advancement of equality.
 
Currently same-sex marriages are legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Canada. In 2006 it becomes legal in South Africa. Civil unions and other forms of legal recognition for same-sex couples exist in Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Israel, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Regions of Australia, Brazil and Argentina offer some if not all the rights of civil unions. You can find these statistics and a large amount of additional information regarding same-sex unions and their historical context at
http://en.wikipedia.org
or specifically at
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Same-sex_marriage_in_the_United_States
 
EQCA is heavily invested in the battle. They have county based chapters in 45 of the 58 California counties, and are in the process of expanding their coverage. They’ve hired more staff, and are in the process of finding a representative for Fresno and the central valley. Molly believes things are shifting toward legalization of same-sex marriage in California, and that the battle could come to a conclusion in 2006 or 2007.
 
In 2000, Californian’s approved Proposition 22, which states “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California”. This means not only are same-sex marriages not legal in the state, but also that any same-sex marriages secured in other states would not be valid or recognized here. Last year our state legislature declared this to be un-constitutional and sent it to Governor Schwarzenegger, who quickly vetoed it, explaining he didn’t feel it was his place to overturn the voter’s decision on Prop 22.
 
While civil unions are being approved around the world, it’s clear a lot of people are unaware of the difference in the number of rights afforded traditional marriage versus same-sex marriage or civil unions. Traditional heterosexual marriage in America grants about 1,400 legal rights to the couple. Gay marriage and civil unions rank in the range of 350 or fewer. This is because while marriage is a state to state issue, a majority of legal rights granted stem from the federal government. So while you may be able to marry a same-sex partner, you’ll only be afforded the rights of that particular state. Additionally, if you’re allowed to marry a same-sex partner in one of the 50 states, you may be denied the recognition of those rights if you travel to a state that hasn’t legalized it.
 
As Molly said, “Nothing has the currency that marriage has, both in the cultural understanding of what that relationship is, as well as there is no institution that provides the equivalency for same sex couples.”
 
We discussed the religious opposition to gay marriage. Each of us knew of passages in the Bible that would conflict with the lives of heterosexuals, passages ignored by all. Molly called it “proof texting”, citing on the things that were beneficial to your cause. She added, “Religion is the only argument against same-sex marriage, yet they still lose in that debate.”
 
The two main forces attempting to thwart legalization of gay marriage in California are:
Campaign For California Families at http://www.ccfcalifornia.com/ and
Protect Marriage at  http://www.protectmarriage.com
They’re attempting to get ballot measures to the voters which will change California’s state constitution, blocking any legalization of same-sex marriage.
 
On the websites of these organizations you can click on such links as “Why It’s Needed”, which supposedly lead to answers. There aren’t any. I’ve never found an answer on any site that addresses why Americans need to thwart the legalization of same-sex marriage. What I do see again and again is that same-sex marriage is a “threat” to traditional marriage, or that we’re trying to “re-define marriage in America”. The threat is never explained, as it can’t be since it doesn’t exist. But they’re right when they say we’re trying to re-define marriage. We’re trying to remove prejudice and discrimination from it. 
 
It seems in America that about half of us don’t need answers or explanations. That half is able to accept any collection of words as truth. Somewhere American began to lose the distinction between beliefs and laws. I believe the current short circuiting of American politics is due to the conflict politicians face as they try to hide from the light of truth that reveals them as, at best, flawed, and at worst, corrupt.
 
Look at the irony as those opposed to same-sex marriage claim that marriage is sanctioned by God, a religious union, and that the purpose of marriage is to reproduce and raise children. In reality, however, marriage can be secular or religious. Certainly atheists are free to marry, as are heterosexual couples unable to physically reproduce.
 
Believe it or not though, there are religious organizations in America that support same-sex marriage. There are ministers who’ve refused to sign any marriage licenses until they can sign all of them.
 
These links are to articles documenting the support of certain religious groups: 
 
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/05/national/05church.html?ex=1278216000&en=6022a35b8a0ed284&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss
 
http://www.aclu.org//lgbt/gen/19866prs20050829.html
 
http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2005/02/11/walsh_st_fleur_back_gay_marriage/
 
Molly noted that should gay marriage get to the point of legalization, it doesn’t mean that religious organizations objecting would have to perform same-sex ceremonies.
 
“This is just the very religious right fundamentalists in a last ditch effort to try to change the hands of time to eliminate protections for a whole class of people. It’s the government discrimination that we want to have ended. We’re hopeful that Californians will stand up to this bigotry and will not allow this to happen.”
 
I expressed to Molly that for the last 25 years I’ve expected same-sex marriage to become reality. I found a better perspective on the issue when she explained that the first court case regarding the legalization of inter-racial marriage was in 1948, but that it wasn’t until 1967 that the final 13 states outlawing inter-racial marriage were forced to change their laws. “If you look at those court documents,” she said, “and substitute the word gender for race, they would read almost exactly the same as the arguments being presented today regarding same-sex marriage”.
 
We discussed the President’s proposed Constitutional Amendment. “It’s a really frightening idea,” she said, “that we would for the first time write discrimination into the United States Constitution that would actually eliminate civil liberties and civil rights for a group of people. We’ve only used the constitution in an amendment process to expand people’s rights”.
 
I asked Molly how people can get involved.
           
“Everybody wants to participate in their own liberation. If you’re an artist, make art. If you’re a politician, stand up and speak out, if you’re a preacher, preach. The real magic behind everything that happens in this state are the people, those who are doing it out of the love their hearts and their passion for equality. I credit what people are doing in their local communities.”
 
Molly tells me that currently California is split in half. 46% or people support gay marriage and 46% do not. Young adults show a very high level of acceptance, but they are less likely to vote. Their increased participation in that process is critical to our success. If it helps, I discovered the absentee ballot a few years ago, and I recommend it. Request it and you’ll receive a ballot in the mail. That way you can take your time with the issues and don’t have to worry about finding the time on voting day to make it to the polls.
 
“32 of the 62 legislators will likely not be running again,” Molly added. “It’s important to research representatives and vote for those who support our cause.”
 
“I think it’s likely to happen in the very near future. We introduced the marriage bill last year and had a majority of California legislators support marriage equality. Statewide, the democratic platform unanimously supports marriage equality. The trial court was led by a Roman Catholic republican appointed judge who said marriage discrimination was un-constitutional. We’re now at the appellate level. Briefs have been filed by the NAACP, the Mexican Legal Defense Fund, the Asian Law Center and large numbers of religious organizations. A lot of progress has been made in the last five years.”
 
“We’ve shown that California is going to put up one hell of a fight,” she added. “We’ve got lots of allies who are going to stand with us. Californians are fair minded and understand our strength is in diversity. We are not going to stand for children to be left without rights to both parents or seniors losing their homes. It’s just unacceptable for the majority of Californians.”
 
To visit EQCA’s website, go to www.eqca.org and create a free account. From there you can participate in action programs such as letters to your representatives in government. You can receive updates and bulletins on the issues at hand and activities in progress.

To get involved here at the local level, visit http://www.eqca.org/chapters/fresno

If you’re an LGBT couple in Fresno, you can make your voice heard on Tuesday, February 14th, Valentines Day, by joining a group organized by EQCA and www.gayfresno.com and showing up at the Fresno County Clerks Office at 2PM to request and be rejected for a marriage license. Media will be present. This is an effective way to demonstrate the personal impact of the denial of equal rights for LGBT people in the state of California.

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