City, gay rights leaders "elated" by Supreme Court rulings

City, gay rights leaders "elated" by Supreme Court rulings

Michele Ellson

Alamedans are expressing elation over a pair of Supreme Court rulings that boost gays’ right to marry and to receive the same federal benefits as their heterosexual counterparts, though some said there is still work to be done.

On Wednesday the court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, opening the door for same-sex couples to receive Social Security, health care and other spousal benefits that the law barred them from receiving. The court also ruled that proponents of California’s Proposition 8, which made same-sex marriages illegal in the state, lacked the standing to challenge a court ruling striking down the initiative – clearing the way for gays to marry here but avoiding the bigger question about whether gays would have the right to marry in other states. Both decisions were made on 5-4 votes.

Governor Jerry Brown has directed county clerks to being processing marriage licenses after a federal court stay retaining the Proposition 8 marriage ban is lifted; that’s expected to happen in 25 days. Meanwhile, Senator Dianne Feinstein wrote on Twitter that she plans to introduce legislation “ASAP” to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

“I’m very pleased that the dignity of the LGBTQ community in California has been restored with Prop 8 being overruled. At the same time I am saddened that the Supreme Court did not provide for same-sex marriage across the land,” said Henry Villareal, who serves on the city’s Social Service Human Relations Board and its Alamedans Together Against Hate workgroup.

Mayor Marie Gilmore said she was excited by the rulings and is looking forward to conducting more weddings at City Hall. She said the decisions surprised her in the wake of the court’s decision Tuesday to nix a key section of the federal Voting Rights Act, which required some states to gain federal approval before changing their election laws.

“I was not optimistic about how these rulings would turn out after that,” Gilmore said. “I’m happy to say that my leanings were wrong.”

The Rev. Laura Rose remembers being married to her partner in San Francisco’s City Hall in 2004, and the feeling that she was “at the beginning of a wave of justice that was about to change history.” Rose says she’s ready to perform same-sex marriages at First Congregational Church of Alameda, which she leads.

“With DOMA and Prop 8 down, I say, let the wedding begin!” Rose said.

Anne Pimental said that with Proposition 8 gone, she’s ready to plan her walk down the aisle.

“We already know where we will get married, it's just a matter of when! It's great to be a Californian,” Pimental wrote on The Alamedan’s Facebook page.

Still, the victory was bittersweet for many gay marriage proponents, who said they wish the court had opened the door to making same-sex marriage legal in the 37 states where they aren’t now permitted to take place – and that they’re prepared to continue their fight to see those changes happen.

“While it was my hope that the Supreme Court would have more broadly ruled in favor of justice and equality by holding Proposition 8 unconstitutional, their more narrow ruling on the standing of the parties invalidates Proposition 8 and legalizes gay marriage in California,” state Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, was quoted as saying in a press release issued by his office Wednesday. “(A)s an Assemblymember for the 18th Assembly District, I am looking forward to continuing the fight to allow every loving couple to be married not just in California, but across the nation.”

Allen Mann said that in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, he now has access to more than 1,000 federal rights and benefits formerly reserved only for heterosexual couples - including the ability to file joint tax returns and to collect Social Security survivor benefits. Mann said he's "distressed" that it took a trip to the Supreme Court to win those rights, but for the most part, pleased with the court's decisions.

"I wish they’d been more expansive in their ruling on Proposition 8, but I’m pleased that their ruling takes the wind out of the sails of those who would deny us basic human rights based on outmoded and increasingly dismissed religious doctrine," Mann said.

But most gay marriage supporters said they see the decisions as welcome progress.

“I think these decisions show that we are becoming a more open-minded nation,” Vice Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft said. “Progress does not always occur as fast as we would like, but these decisions are a big step in the right direction.”

Alameda’s leaders have offered strong support for gay rights. Councilman Tony Daysog noted that he fought for and won approval to expand domestic partner benefits, in 1997, and to exempt domestic partners from a transfer tax on property, on 2003. The city flew a rainbow flag in support of gay rights when arguments were heard on the Proposition 8 case, at Councilwoman Lena Tam’s request.

In 2009, the Board of Education approved a hotly contested elementary school curriculum, dubbed “Lesson 9,” aimed at presenting positive images of gays, and the school district now hosts an LGBTQ Roundtable aimed at making the district a more welcoming place for gay students and family members.

Alamedans were also active in an effort to persuade the local Boy Scout council to disregard their national organization’s ban on gays; the Alameda Council has urged Boy Scouts of America to remove its continuing ban on gay adults’ participation in scouting, after a majority of its members said they didn’t support it.

"For a middle-of-the-road city like Alameda to have taken strong positions early-on in favor of equality was every bit as helpful, I am convinced, as pathbreaking efforts exhibited in places like Berkeley, Santa Monica or San Francisco,” Daysog said. “(I)t was a harbinger of the day like today when not only the majority of persons in national polls but most importantly the U.S. Supreme Court would come to accept gays and lesbians in committed relationships as families just like heterosexual families."

The text of both decisions is available here.