What can we as people of the LGBT community do in order to draw attention to the fact that we are still, in 2006, not granted the same legal rights as our heterosexual counterparts? For the second year, a gathering organized by www.gayfresno.com and Equality California www.eqca.org met at the offices of the Fresno County Clerk in downtown Fresno to make a statement by requesting marriage licenses as same sex couples. Valentines Day is a universal day of love, marriage and commitment, the perfect atmosphere to continue our goal to bring awareness to the public eye. Love cannot continue to be defined by the bigoted, selfish and the religious right.
There was a large turnout for the event, with about 30 people present, along with all local news channels. Gay Fresno was present, as were youth members of the Gay Straight Alliance and the Reverend Bryan D Jessup, who told me that the parishioners of his church, The Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno, requested and urged him to come to the event to show their support. The news media continually scrambled and crossed paths and cables with each other in an attempt to cover the story. There was also a rather large and unnecessary law enforcement presence. Approximately five members of the Sheriff’s department stood their ground on the sidewalk across the street from the demonstration, while 2-3 uniformed officers mingled both inside and just outside the County Clerk office. At no point during the event was there even the slightest need for their presence, and they left as soon as the crowd began to break up.
After those of us on the sidewalk were interviewed numerous times by the media, some of us were wired with microphones and proceeded into the offices of the County Clerk. At the first event staged in 2005, three same sex couples stepped into the offices to request marriage licenses and were addressed as one and rejected. This year we made a point of stepping up to the desk one couple at a time to make our request, so that we would have to be addressed individually, as all other couples would have been. The staff at the Clerk’s office were cordial and polite, and upon informing us that California law does not allow same sex couples the rights of marriage, handed us a pre-printed form explaining the details of the law.
Outside the office I approached a man and woman standing quietly on the sidelines and found out that he was an ordained minister who had shown up to perform a ceremony for anyone who was willing. Gay Fresno’s own Jason Scott and RJ Gray took him up on his offer and were married, although without legal sanction, on the sidewalk outside the County Clerk’s office.
While the media coverage was for the most part well done, there were a couple of glaring pieces of established prejudice. The female reporter for channel 24 wandered through the crowd as the other reporters did, seeking interviews, but with a noticeable difference in her tone and attitude. She frowned while asking questions with a condescending tone, such as “Why are you bothering to do this since same sex marriage is illegal?” Evidently she’s unaware that laws can change, given the right movement comes along to shine light on a discriminatory system. (In fact, if you check out the last picture of those shown in this article, you can see this reporter in the far left of the frame and you’ll get a pretty good idea from the look on her face and her body language as to the mood she was in) Then there was the local news team from channel 30, who after a brief introduction on the air and just before the airing of their coverage, felt it was necessary to add the disclaimer that “the following story contains adult themes”. Gay Fresno complained to both stations regarding these actions.
Visible presence is one of the most powerful political acts we can accomplish as Americans. Although the law in California currently states that marriage is between one man and one woman, we have to remember that laws can be changed. Throughout our history as a country there are countless cases of laws being changed or abandoned due their intrinsic flaws. The argument that “the people have spoken” and the “law is the law” is the exact opposite of what we should all hold high as an American standard. We as American citizens must continue to stand up and make ourselves seen when we feel that the law does not serve everyone equally. By walking into the County Clerk’s office and requesting a license we know will not be granted to us puts forth the message that while we have to currently abide by that law, we will not remain silent. We will not stop making our presence known until everyone in America is treated fairly, and not judged with discrimination and prejudice.