Tension is building for supporters, opponents of Proposition 8
A recent court hearing has put numerous people on edge about which way the Supreme Court justices will rule
By Michael Sullivan 03/12/2009
More than 100 people — young, old, gay, straight, black, white and everything in between — gathered together for a solemn candlelight vigil at the Ventura County Government Center on March 4. It was the eve before lawyers who represented upholding and overturning Proposition 8 were to have their day before California’s Supreme Court justices in Sacramento.
At stake: Does the ban on gay marriage mean a revision or an amendment to the California Constitution? Would all the marriages entered into during the 4 ½ months it was legal between same-sex couples be voided? Is the ban constitutional since it violates civil rights of equality?
For some, the answer is clear — it is the will of the majority of the people, therefore it must stick. For others, it is just as clear — it is a violation of civil rights.
During the court hearings the next day, Kenneth Starr, attorney to uphold the proposition, said that if the majority of the people voted to ban gay marriage, then it should be upheld. By the same token, if the people voted to abolish the freedom of speech, then an amendment could do that as well.
But for Jessica Altman-Pollack, 26, of Ventura, this isn’t a game of whomever gets the most votes wins or how the Supreme Court Justices rule. This is her life. And now her life, as well as thousands of others, has come under scrutiny and for only one reason — falling in love with a person of the same sex.
A year ago in May, the California Supreme Court ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. During the months it was legal, Jessica and her partner of seven years, Loretta, tied the knot — actually, they had already said their vows a year earlier, though this time it was legally binding.
“When we made it legal, we were thrilled! I was jumping out of my skin that they had gone through with the ruling,” Jessica said.
But then, of course, Proposition 8 happened, and everything changed. The couple’s excitement dissipated.
“The passing of Prop. 8 — it is strange wondering who hates us,” Jessica said.
While the residents of California have come a long way from a similar ban on gay marriage in 2000, which passed by a margin of 61 to 39, the results of Election Day 2008, proved that acceptance is on the way — it’s just not the majority yet. The ban passed by a slimmer margin of 52 to 48.
A couple of months ago, Jessica was certain that her marriage would remain legal. Now, after the hearing, she has her doubts.
Starr argued in court last week that the marriages should be voided because the proposition is clear — only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California. Therefore, marriage between the same-sex couples would automatically be invalid.
Critics say that the California Supreme Court justices seemed averse to overturning a proposition that was passed by a majority of Californians. On the other hand, the justices didn’t seem to like the idea of nullifying 18,000 marriages, since they were made when it was legal to do so.
For Ron Prentice, chairman of the Yes on 8 campaign Protectmarriage, agreed with Starr — the ban should be upheld and the marriages should be invalid.
“The language is simple, 14 words of the amendment, marriage only between a man and woman shall be valid,” he said. “First of all, yea, [gay couples] are upset. They believe a right has been taken from them. The right was inappropriately given to them by the Supreme Court. Those in favor of Proposition 8 believe traditional marriage is the best opportunity for children to thrive and believe it is worth protecting for various reasons.”
“Every child deserves the right to have both the mom and the dad. There is no research that indicates a family life such as two moms, or two dads even, is as good.”
On another note, one of the arguments made during the Proposition 8 campaign was that same-sex marriage would hurt heterosexual marriages by making marriage between a man and a woman less sacred.
In an interview, Mark Stevens of the Mormon Church in Utah agreed with that argument. But he also admitted that divorce and infidelity were reasons that it was difficult to preserve the traditional definition of marriage in the straight sect.
(‘Til death do you part.) When asked how much money the members of the Mormon Church have spent on saving marriages from divorce outside the church, similar to the millions spent on Proposition 8, he did not have an answer.
One argument remains, one that Kenneth Starr said would work — change the legal name from marriage to civil union for everyone. That would mean millions of couples — gay or straight — would have the same rights but would also have to go through the legal system again to be “civil unionized.”
Rev. Jan Christian of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ventura doesn’t think this is such a bad idea.
“All marriages in California and the United States should be civil marriages, and there should be equality on how they are handled by the state,” she said. “It’s up to churches to bless or not those unions. One of the problems with the misinformation presented during the campaign, that churches would be forced to bless unions they didn’t want to — that has never been the case and should never be the case.”
She went on to say that, in lieu of Prop. 8 passing, she stopped signing state marriage licenses and that marriages, and consequently the rights given to the couples through the civil contract, should be regulated by the state — not the church.
The Supreme Court justices have three months to make a final ruling. Until then, the Altman-Pollacks and numerous others hold on to the hope that their marriages will remain valid and the possibility that every gay couple will, one day, have the same rights as heterosexual couples.