Same-sex in The City

By
February 26, 2004

Mills College Weekly

The battle over same-sex marriage is growing, with Pres. Bush
supporting a constitutional amendment against it as gay and lesbian
couples continue to marry at San Francisco’s City Hall.

On Tuesday, nearly two weeks after San Francisco Mayor Gavin
Newsom lifted the ban on same-sex marriages, Bush urged Congress to
approve an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning same-sex
marriage, stating that “a few judges and local authorities are
presuming to change the most fundamental institution of
civilization.”

Bush’s statement came shortly after Gov. Schwarzenegger’s
appearance on “Meet the Press” Sunday, where he expressed his
concern over Newsom’s actions citing the possibility of civil
unrest in San Francisco.

Schwarzenegger also ordered state Attorney General Bill Lockyer
to put an end to the marriages, to which Lockyer replied that the
Governor has no power to direct his actions.

Newsom has defended his decision by citing the California
Constitution’s equal protection clause. Opponents to same-sex
marriage have already filed two lawsuits in response. San Francisco
city officials responded by filing a lawsuit against the state of
California, arguing that Prop. 22, which defines marriage as a
union between a man and a woman, violates the state’s
constitution.

Superior Court Judge James Warren rejected pleas to halt
same-sex marriages and the cases, combined into one by the judge,
will be heard on March 29. Until then, Newsom plans to continue
handing out marriage licenses to all of the same-sex couples that
make it through the long lines.

Last week, Bush expressed his disapproval of Newsom’s decision
by stating that he was “troubled” by what is happening in San
Francisco, and said that the situation would influence his decision
on whether or not to support an amendment.

“Bush says he’s ‘troubled’, but we’re troubled by him,” said
Lauren Steinberg, freshwoman. “Why’s he troubled by a couple of old
lesbians and other happy couples getting married when there are
people dying every day in Iraq?”

Steinberg was referring to Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon,
pioneering lesbian rights activists, who have been together for 51
years and were the first to be married in San Francisco. The couple
founded the Daughters of Bilitis, the first national lesbian rights
group, in 1955, and started the not-for-profit Lyon-Martin Women’s
Health Services in San Francisco, providing free health care to
women, including transgendered.

Here at Mills, Mimi Gephart, senior, married her partner of
eight years in a City Hall ceremony on Valentine’s Day.

“It was just a really happy, happy day and there was no mayhem
and there was no frenzy, except excitement,” said Gephart. “It took
like ten minutes, but it was really the most meaningful ten minutes
of my life.”

Many opponents to Newsom’s decision argue that he is breaking
the law and going against Prop. 22, passed by California voters in
2000.

“Proposition 22 comes after the Constitution of California,”
said Jamie Martin, senior.

“In terms of whether he’s subverting state law—that’s in
question,” said Rebekah Edwards, Mills professor. “There’s an
anti-discrimination law that takes precedent over the law
prohibiting same-sex marriage.”

Many here support Newsom’s move, regardless of whether he’s
breaking the law.

Martin recently accompanied a friend who decided to marry her
partner in San Francisco.

“[My friend] was saying, ‘It’s so beautiful that us getting
married is such an act of civil disobedience’,” said Martin.

“I think it’s about time—to see a city and a mayor stand
up in an act of civil disobedience is incredibly empowering to
people,” said Blake Saffitz, sophomore.

“I think that there are times when civil disobedience is called
for,” said Ashley Groves, sophomore. “If he’s disregarding the law,
then personally, I don’t care.”

Last week at San Francisco’s City Hall, not all demonstrators
were there to protest Newsom’s decision to ignore Prop. 22. For
some, their objection was religion-based. Late Thursday afternoon,
a group of young people from Repent America criticized the waiting
couples, while quoting the Bible.

Same-sex marriage advocates held a sign that read, “Hate is not
a family value” on the steps of City Hall, between opponents with
signs reading, “Homosexuality is sin” and “The wicked shall be
turned into hell.”

“Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and
natural roots,” said Bush on Tuesday. He said the amendment should
fully protect marriage, while leaving the states free to make their
own choices in defining legal arrangements other than marriage.

But many dismiss the religious arguments. “A marriage license is
a government produced contract—if it is available to some
citizens it should be available to all,” said Edwards. “I think it
is important to remember that we are not talking about a faith
sanctioned union here—marriage of that sort is a completely
different matter and must be understood within one’s private
religious convictions. Matters of faith are very personal and
should be honored, respected and kept separate from government
law,” she said.

While there were frequent outbursts from same-sex marriage
supporters in retaliation to the condemnatory words of the
protesters, most did not let it change their otherwise joyous
occasion.

Cheering erupted from the crowd of observers and couples waiting
to be married as newlyweds emerged from the building, the newest
additions to the more than 3,000 couples that have been married (as
of press time).

“There have been so many random acts of kindness that counteract
it,” said Lesley Roberts, Executive Producer of the Lesbian
Alliance web site.

Pam Wolpa, 48, and Carmen Gomez, 45, of Walnut Creek,
experienced this firsthand. A local florist approached them in
line, handed them a bouquet of flowers and said someone from
Vermont had called and had the flowers delivered to a
soon-to-be-married couple. A card attached to the flowers read,
“Dear Friends—Congratulations! Direct action gets
satisfaction. In Solidarity, From Vermont.”

Many worry that Newsom’s decision will infuriate conservatives
and lead to a constitutional amendment like the one currently being
pushed by Bush. Others argue that Newsom’s move has played an
important role in opening a national discussion on the issue.

“People standing against it won’t be able to get this out of
their heads,” said Maria Argani, 47, who waited in line with her
partner and two daughters for eight hours last Thursday before
being turned away at the end of the day. “I’m very hopeful about
the future. It will never be as hidden as before.”

People on both sides of the issue have argued their cases,
sometimes angrily, on the steps of City Hall.

But calmer exchanges have also been seen. Angelique Mahan, 32,
of San Francisco engaged Jason Storms, 25, a protester from Repent
America, in a discussion about what she saw as his hurtful
protesting tactics. She later remarked on their ability to carry
out a calm discussion together.

“See, we just had a very civilized conversation and we have very
different opinions,” Mahan said, turning to address the small group
of observers. “He has an opinion, I have an opinion, and that’s not
going to change, but we can still coexist.”

Overall, the outlook at Mills is optimistic that same-sex
marriage will continue.

“I believe justice prevails and it will,” said Saffitz.
“Equality does eventually happen, it just takes time, but I know
that right now we are living in an amazing time.”


Same-sex in The City was published on February 26, 2004 in News

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