Local gay marriage advocates gathered at Mitchell Park Tuesday to oppose the California Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold Proposition 8, the proposition passed last November that banned same-sex marriage.
About 250 community members congregated for an event organized by the San Luis Obispo chapter of Marriage Equality USA. The 6-1 ruling determined that the 18,000 same-sex marriages that took place before the vote remain valid.
After the passage of Porposition 8, several same-sex couples took the vote results to the courts, stating that the ballot measure was unconstitutional under state law.
The court rejected those claims, with the majority opinion stating that it is not the court’s role to determine whether Proposition 8 “is wise or sound as a matter of policy or whether we, as individuals believe it should be a part of the California Constitution,” but instead “is limited to interpreting and applying the principles and rules embodied in the California Constitution, setting aside our own personal beliefs and values.”
According to public law and political theory professor Ronald Den Otter , the ruling was almost inevitable.
“The decision wasn’t unexpected,” Den Otter said. “Very few people thought that the court would find that Proposition 8 constituted a constitutional revision and therefore, required approval of the legislature before being submitted to the voters. Very few people also thought that Proposition 8 was retroactive and therefore invalidated the approximattely 18,000 same-sex marriages that had been performed before November 4, 2009.”
Some Cal Poly student organizations attended to show their support for same-sex marriage, including the Pride Center and Delta Lambda Phi, a fraternity for gay, bisexual and progressive men.
The Supreme Court decision was a let-down for Delta Lambda Phi president Brad Purpura, who was optimistic about the possibility of Proposition 8 being overruled.
“I’m completely dumb-founded actually,” Purpura said. “I was sure that it was going to get overruled. Given what the justices said last year when they originally allowed gay marriage, I thought there was no way they were going to go back on that, but the decision today lit a fire inside myself. Now I’m fighting harder than I did prior because it’s just a matter of time until I’m afforded the rights of everyone else.”
David Kilburn, San Luis Obispo’s chapter leader of Marriage Equality USA, said that although he and his husband get to keep their marriage, it’s unfair that same-sex couples do not have the opportunity to marry.
“I’m not giving it up, but at the same time, it has a whole different meaning now that I know that we’ve been forced into a situation of having a special right,” he said. “We didn’t ask for a special right. We asked for marriage equality. That’s all we wanted.”
The crowd at Mitchell Park waved signs supporting same-sex marriage at oncoming cars and members of various organizations dedicated their support.
Helen Carroll, a clergywoman from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Luis Obispo County, offered words of encouragement to the crowd and led all participants in a prayer. Carroll emphasized that she is one of many church affiliates who supports marriage equality.
“The court made the decision that they thought best met the people’s wishes,” Carroll said. “What the decision did, beyond disappointing me, was gave me a road map for how it is to go about making justice. That road map involved changing the constitution. I have already made a covenant that I will not sanctify marriages by signing certificates until I can sign them for everyone.”
A few Proposition 8 supporters were present as well. Rather than approaching the matter from a religious angle, they argued that the group at Mitchell Park should respect the decision made by California voters.
“People voted twice on this issue,” San Luis Obispo resident Dane Senser said. “To me, it’s not about equality. I believe there is plenty of equality. It’s not about being homophobic or anything else … How many times do you have to vote on this? You have to go with the will of the people.”
Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Maine and Iowa have legalized same-sex marriage and Vermont will be added to the list in September.
But supporters of gay marriage in California are hopeful, like Devin Ward, a teacher in Santa Maria, who was wearing a shirt that read “No More Mr. Nice Gay.”
“There’s a momentum. A momentum that cannot be denied that’s happening slowly but surely throughout the country,” Ward said.
Supporters from California and around the nation will meet in Fresno this Saturday for the Meet in the Middle 4 Equality conference — the next step at organizing grassroots efforts for legalizing gay marriage.