County responds to same-sex marriage ruling

Local couples plan to wed this summer

By Hannah Guzik 05/22/2008

With his handlebar mustache, navy blue blazer and jeans carefully rolled once over his black patent lace-ups, Harris Berger looks every bit the merchant mariner chef.

Which he is, for a government research vessel docked in Port Hueneme.

“I’m a victim of my profession,” Berger joked, his eyes dancing, as he stood at the County Government Center on Friday, May 16. “It’s an occupational hazard; you end up looking like this.”

But, jokes aside, for many of his 53 years, the Oxnard resident has felt like a victim — of the state government.

That’s because Berger is gay, and because of his sexual orientation he has been prohibited from marrying his partner of 23 years, Michael Quick.

Now, though, alongside thousands of other couples in California, he and Quick can wed, thanks to a decision on Thursday, May 15 by the state Supreme Court, overturning the ban on same-sex marriage.

“What an amazing day today is. What an amazing day today really is,” Berger said, during a government center rally attended by about 100 people celebrating the court decision. “It’s a big day for the wedding industry, but it’s an even bigger day for social justice.”

Berger and Quick plan to marry in late July in Ventura County.

“Of course, like any other couple we would very much like to show and express our love and commitment to each other,” Berger said.

About 40,000 gay and lesbian people live in Ventura County, according to a recent study by Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, and most of them are in relationships, said Jay Smith, executive director of the Ventura County Rainbow Alliance.

“This is larger than just the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) issue. It’s about equality,” said Smith, whose Ventura office has been flooded with phone calls and e-mail messages about the court decision.

“We’re on top of the world right now, but we’re cautious, too.”

Conservative groups plan to put an initiative on the November ballot that would, if passed, amend the state constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage.

“So-called ‘same-sex’ marriage is counterfeit marriage,” Matt Barber with Concerned Women for America said in a release. “Marriage is, and has always been, between a man and a woman. We know that it’s in the best interest of children to be raised with a mother and a father.”

Berger, however, thinks Californians are growing more and more accepting of gay and lesbian people.

“Ventura County has always had the reputation of being a politically conservative county, but I think it’s loosening up politically,” he said.

County officials plan to issue marriage licenses and officiate ceremonies for same-sex couples as soon as they receive state direction on how to do so, said David Valenzuela, operations manager at the county clerk and recorder’s office.

The court decision officially takes effect June 16, and Ventura County will likely begin issuing licenses on that day, Valenzuela said.

“We will work with everybody that wants to get married. I think we’ll be quite busy,” he said.

For Berger and Quick, that means smooth sailing ahead.

“I think a lot of people will see that the world will not fall off and will not disintegrate as a result of this ruling,” Berger said. “I think people will see that we’re just like them. I think there will be a new awakening, a new dawn.”  

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