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11.12.08

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Phaedra

2Gether 4Ever: Valerie Joi Fiddmont (left) and Deborah Johnson are among the many newly married same-sex couples wondering what will become of their legal marriage.

Eight is Too Much

Santa Cruz No on 8 supporters try to figure out what comes next.

By Curtis Cartier and Eric Johnson


For Deborah Johnson, who married her 11-year partner Valerie Joi Fiddmont a month ago, the night of Nov. 4 was bittersweet. An African American woman and founding minister of Inner Light Ministries, Johnson says she had never felt more proud of her country than when she watched Barack Obama take the stage in Chicago and deliver his acceptance speech. But as a recently married lesbian, the passing of Prop. 8 was such a devastating hit, she felt as if she had "blown an internal fuse."

"I was so overwhelmingly happy for Obama and what it means to elect an African American as president," Johnson says in a voice choked with emotion. "But at the same time, I'm witnessing and I'm being the brunt of a recklessly irresponsible attack on basic human rights.

"Even above civil liberties, it's a human right. Government doesn't grant the right to marry. It's already there."

Johnson uses her longtime relationship as an example of what gay and lesbian couples have to offer the institution of marriage. She compares the ban on same-sex marriages to the ban on interracial marriages that survived in America until just 40 years ago.

She also points to Obama, whose parents' relationship would have been illegal in nine states at the time he was born, as proof that the "there goes the neighborhood" argument doesn't work with race and shouldn't work with sexual preference either.

Kevin Smith, who married his 10-year partner Jeff Mallory in Big Sur on Oct. 8, tells a story similar to Johnson's. He says election night was "extremely strange" for him too.

"I was so elated, so relieved that Barack Obama had been elected president. And so disappointed, heartbroken and so angry that Prop. 8 had passed.

"I felt like there was this great celebration going on all around me, and yet I couldn't jump up and down with the same euphoria. It was like there was a pane of glass between me and the jubilant crowd. And there I was, once again, on the outside."

Smith (an occasional freelancer for Metro Santa Cruz) says the past week has been difficult for him and his husband, and, he imagines, for a lot of gay men and lesbians. He points out that being gay in this culture takes a lot of courage, and that many who grow up in less-than-tolerant circumstances have deeply buried wounds.

The results of the election brought back some bad memories, he says. It took him back to his adolescence, and reminded him of insults he'd suffered as a young man. "And I found myself thinking, 'Wow--they really don't like me. They really don't want me around.' All that stuff came back."

The Diversity Center on Soquel Avenue serves as a public space for Santa Cruz's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Executive director Jim Brown says the passing of Prop. 8 has sent a shock wave through the community, and right now, he's only hoping to stop the bleeding.

"I had the honor of marrying a couple of friends back in June," he says. "Now we're getting calls from couples all over who are concerned their marriages might be nullified. And all I can think about is the lesbian couple that's been together for 30 years being told they can't be together."

Johnson, Smith and Brown's lesbian friends were exactly the kind of people Glen Schaller, campaign manager for the Santa Cruz "No On 8" campaign, was fighting for when he set out to stop the amendment from passing. Now, packing up posters and pamphlets and clearing out his workspace from within the Democratic Headquarters on Front Street, he says he's disappointed but not overcome and will continue to fight both locally and nationally for the rights of same-sex couples.

"This battle will continue now in the courts," says Schaller. "If they can get enough signatures to get a constitutional amendment put on the ballot, so can we. This isn't the end. Not by a long shot."

That possibility was buttressed on Monday, Nov. 10, as 43 Democratic state legislators, including leaders of the state Senate and Assembly, filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the California Supreme Court to invalidate Prop 8.

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata and incoming President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg all signed the brief, as did outgoing District 27 Assemblyman John Laird and District 28's Anna Caballero. Later that day, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reversed his previous position and called on the court to void the proposition.

Smith says he is hopeful that the courts will reject the new constitutional amendment. Meanwhile, he says, he has rebounded somewhat since last Tuesday: "It has made me want to stand up taller than ever, prouder than ever, and say, 'If you think we're going away, you're wrong.'"


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