Photograph by Traci Hukill
Union Dues : Gail Grove, left, and Dinah Phillips meet the press at their June 17 wedding. Theirs was the first gay marriage in the county.
Love and Marriage
Santa Cruz's queer and straight Prop 8 opponents uncork.
By Molly Zapp
What happens when you let the gays get married?" recently betrothed Cece Pinheiro asks rhetorically. Three months after the first marriage licenses were issued to gay couples in California, a question that Pinheiro and her wife, Darlene Wilcox, didn't think would become more than theoretical when they became a couple 14 years ago finally has a response. "We're having a potluck and a fundraiser for equal rights," Pinheiro answers.
Pinheiro and Wilcox obtained a marriage license at the courthouse on June 18, the second day they were able to legally do so in California after the state Supreme Court ruled that banning same-sex marriage violated the state's constitutional equal protection guarantee. Instead of jetting off on a honeymoon, however, Pinheiro and Wilcox went with their First Congregational United Church of Christ mission group to Nicaragua to promote peace, social justice and equal rights.
But the legal state of marriage may change again, and this time the couple, along with the thousands of other recently married same-sex couples, stands to lose. Proposition 8 seeks to negate the court's decision by amending the constitution to restrict marriage as only between one woman and one man. Pinheiro and Wilcox decided that their ceremonial exchange of vows on Nov. 1 will not only be a way to celebrate with their loved ones, but an opportunity to work toward defeating the threat to their new legal status: their wedding reception and potluck will raise funds for Equality California, an LGBT-rights organization working against Proposition 8.
Government recognition of marriage, historically a primarily economic institution, encompasses a unique mix of religious, constitutional, familial, economic and civil rights issues, and those on different sides of Prop. 8 have a choice in which aspects they want to emphasize.
"Equality is guaranteed under the 14th Amendment, that every citizen has a right to equal protection under the law," says Mas Hashimoto, vice president of the Watsonville-Santa Cruz Japanese American Citizens League. "This proposition is based upon ignorance and hate."
Hashimoto compares discriminatory treatment of LGBT folks to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. "The same people that discriminated against us discriminate against gays and lesbians. That's wrong; that's un-Christian; that's immoral," he says.
Perspectives from local religious leaders regarding same-sex marriage vary widely. In a written statement, Bishop of Monterey Richard J. Garcia, who supports the ban on same-sex marriage, writes, "Let us dedicate ourselves to upholding the inviolable dignity of every person. Let us at the same time declare by the witness of our lives our recognition of the vital role that marriage between a man and a woman plays in family and society."
But Rev. Dave Grishaw-Jones of the First Congregation Church, who has officiated and blessed many same-sex marriages and unions, emphasizes the "fundamental Christian ethic of love and accepting others. The Gospel is about love, compassion, liberation, justice." Frustrated that Christ's name is so often invoked by conservative evangelicals who oppose gay rights, Grishaw-Jones speaks passionately: "James Dobson pisses me off. It's so blatantly political and calculated ... To say that [the Gospel] all comes down to this limited view on abortion and marriage is blasphemous."
Proposition 22 was the ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage that passed in 2000 with a 61 percent vote, and its wording is nearly identical to that of Proposition 8. But campaign manager Glen Schaller of Santa Cruz County No on 8 says this is a different situation from that of eight years ago.
"It's no longer theoretical," Schaller says. "Now we're talking about real people ... who have just won a right, and to have it snatched after such a short time period would be horrendous," Schaller says. The local campaign has focused on reaching out to undecided voters, and on clarifying that voting for marriage equality means a "no" vote on the proposition.
Many recently married queer people interviewed said that while the new legal status of their long-term relationship had a small impact on their relationship with their spouse, the larger impact has been increased approval from co-workers, acquaintances, extended family and wider society.
"You can't help but be influenced by how society views what you're doing," says Gail Groves, who married Dinah Phillips, her partner of 26 years. "The love relationship you feel is such a deep part of who you are," she says.
Groves, Pinheiro and Wilcox all acknowledge the mixed history of marriage, especially for women, and Pinheiro and Wilcox question how much of a role the government should have in marriage at all. But health care, child custody, inheritance and hundreds of other rights are inextricably intertwined with the legal state of marriage, and the possibility that the government could become less involved in the legal status of people's intimate relationships, in Wilcox's words, "will never happen." There are still hundreds of federal marriage rights denied to same-sex spouses. With that in mind, they want the option to choose or not choose to become married not to depend on one's sexual orientation.
For hundreds of years, same-sex couples and lovers lived their relationships with the assumption that marriage would never be an option for them. How having the mainstream option of marriage will change queer culture can only be revealed with time, and some queer people who choose to get married acknowledge their assimilation-weary friends who reject marriage for themselves.
"Gay people question things so many straight people don't have to question," says Tom Ellison, who married his partner of 16 years, Larry Freedman. "Maybe that's something we're losing, but I think it's worth the price," he concludes.
Supporters of Proposition 8 have had very little presence in Santa Cruz. "[Santa Cruz] is very gay-friendly, and the government is reflective of that," says Ellison. "If you're homophobic, you keep your mouth shut, which is a pretty nice thing," he says.
The lack of marriage equality opposition and blatant homophobia in the county masks the reality that, statewide, the proposition is expected to be a close race. Ironically, that lack of a visible force to mobilize against may create the false impression that same-sex marriage rights are home safe.
"There can sometimes be some complacency in a progressive community like Santa Cruz county, where people understand that a similar proposition eight years ago was defeated within this county," says Schaller. "We came in second in the state in terms of highest 'no' votes. So some people feel it's going to be fine, that they don't have to put in the time or money. I think it's very much a part of our job on the campaign that they understand we are one of 58 counties, and that it's very important that we vote very strongly against Proposition 8 here," he says.
For those who are still uncomfortable with homosexuality, Pinheiro emphasizes the impact on the constitution that a ban would have.
"I have a Republican aunt, and I've talked to other far-right people," she says. "The way I explain it to them is that it's not just about gays and lesbians getting married; this is about a change to the constitution. That would be the first time in California history that the constitution would be altered to take away the rights of a group of citizens."
Wilcox is the stepmother of Pinheiro's grown daughter, and the couple just became grandmothers. In a distinctly different tone from the "protect the family" message purported by most of those who support Proposition 8, Wilcox sees the potential loss of same-sex marriage that the passing of Proposition 8 would bring as detrimental the family unit.
"You don't have the right to tell my family that being without their basic rights is good for them," Wilcox says.
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