by Jeremy Ogul –
The overall tone of Tuesday’s gathering was positive and motivational, with UC Davis law professors joining clergy from local faith groups and musicians to bring a message of hope and resolve to those in attendance.
UCD law professor Alan Brownstein explained that the Supreme Court’s decision was not about the substance of Prop 8, but the process by which it became part of the constitution. The court found that Prop 8 was not a revision of the constitution — which would have required a vote of the legislature — but instead an amendment.
“That’s the legal answer to what happened today, but that answer doesn’t really describe the meaning in today’s decision,” Brownstein said. “What today’s decision really means is that we’ve enshrined in our constitution a revision that rejects the state’s historical commitment to equality, denies a specific group the right to exercise a fundamental right — the right to marry. The wrong that was done on election day last November and upheld by the Supreme Court today doesn’t only stigmatize gays and lesbians. It also reveals that our state constitution is only a caricature of what a constitution is supposed to be.
“Proposition 8 demonstrates that our constitutional emperor has no clothes. We now know that while our constitution declares that Californians have inalienable rights, in reality those rights can be denied by an initiative supported by a bare majority of the voters. But rights that are subject to the approval of a majority aren’t rights in any meaningful sense. They are privileges that can be abridged or withdrawn at the state’s discretion.
“After Proposition 8 our constitution mocks the very idea of rights. Proposition 8 has fundamentally distorted the very purpose of constitutional law. Instead of serving as a shield to protect minorities against the tyranny of the majority, our constitution now serves as a sword that requires the state to practice invidious discrimination. That’s not what a constitution is supposed to do.
The event was organized by the Davis-based GSAFE, the Gay-Straight Alliance for Equality. GSAFE was founded in January by Linda Waite and Amy Boyer, who met while holding No on 8 signs on a street corner last fall. About 20 people volunteered with the group Tuesday evening, and over a dozen speakers took the stage next to the carousel to share their views on the meaning of the court’s decision and the future of the marriage equality fight.
The Rev. Kristin Stoneking, director of the Cal Aggie Christian Association and one of the 18,000 whose same-sex marriages were validated by the court, called the decision to uphold Prop 8 “a basic and fundamental error” and said this would be remembered as a dark day in the state’s history.
“It’s ironic to me that the beliefs of those who picked this fight are said to be in accordance with the teaching of the one who I follow as well, whose name is Jesus,” Stoneking said. “But this battle wasn’t so much about religion as it was about exclusivism. It wasn’t so much about faithfulness as it was about power.
Stoneking confessed that she was tired of fighting against those who are opposed to gay marriage, and said she believed Christians who fought for Prop 8 were misguided, especially “when there are people who do not have homes and children who do not have food.”
“This is not the call of a Christian,” she said. “Christians are called to combat hunger, homelessness, poverty, violation. These are the things we are called to combat, not who is allowed to pledge a life of love and devotion to whom.”
Jocelynn Hughes of The Belfry echoed many of Stoneking’s sentiments, adding that although the bible includes language hostile to homosexuality, Christians have grown and changed over time and should recognize that God loves all people.
Tuesday’s gathering also featured a number of local musicians. Dressed in matching white shirts and rainbow suspenders, The She-Bang Bucket Drummers led demonstrators on a march around Central Park at the beginning of the event. Between speakers, Duval Speck, MudLark, Nathan Lefkoff and others entertained the audience with music and singing.
Rabbi Greg Wolfe of Congregation Bet Haverim spoke about how marriage equality supporters were on “the journey of a lifetime,” one that would eventually lead them to the “promised land” in which both gay and straight couples would be allowed to marry.
“We recognize that this is an incomplete victory for justice, but it is an important step in realizing our promise,” Wolfe said. “The truth is on our side, and our bible teaches us that we are the guardian of the rights of the most vulnerable. Now we must carry forward our obligation to fight for the rights of those in the minority, those who are threatened with being marginalized and overlooked.
“Today we promise ourselves to keep this sacred journey to the promised land alive, for all of our sakes, because when some are diminished, we are all diminished.”
UCD law professor Jennifer Chacon described a 1995 court case that found that same-sex partners immigrating to the U.S. could not be considered spouses and were therefore not entitled to immigrate as family members. Chacon said the case illustrates one more way that marriage matters.
“Every year U.S. citizens are denied the ability to petition as a spouse for their non-citizen same-sex partners, which means that many same-sex couples are denied the right to live together in the United States — because one partner cannot immigrate,” Chacon said. “I mention this case to illustrate the simple and obvious point that it’s not enough to guarantee certain protections to civil unions when we as a society imbue the term marriage with so many accompanying state-sponsored rights and protections.”
Chacon also pointed to the civil rights movement as an example of how court cases don’t always mean social change — it was the activism of the day, not Brown vs. Board of Education, that brought real change to the U.S., she said.
Yolo County Clerk-Recorder Freddie Oakley, a longtime supporter of marriage equality, spoke about the bittersweet feeling she had on her 40th wedding anniversary this weekend. Oakley exhorted listeners to register as permanent absentee voters and she said it was time for marriage activists to focus on creating a grassroots 2010 campaign that gives a voice to all stakeholders.
The audience also heard from Elizabeth Banks of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis, Mantu Joshi of the United Methodist Church, Rob Roy Woodman of Davis Friends Meeting, Nazzy Pakpour of Up4Equality and Lucy Boster of Yes! On Equality.
The rally was cosponsored by the ACLU, and representative Tom Lang gave a brief statement:
“I think human history is the struggle between fear and trust,” Lang said, “and those who are ruled by fear have won the victory, albeit a temporary one, which means that those of us who can trust a little sooner, a little longer, a little more inclusively, need to get busy. I think history also tells us that those of us who can sustain our attention and our intention on our goal will in the end overcome. So we know what we need to do, we know the world won’t get better without us, it’s just time to do it.”
For more information on GSAFE, visit gsafeweb.org.