By Christine Carpenter, Special to the Independent
The mood of the Federal Club rally held at Laguna Beach’s ReMark’s restaurant was one of elation and relief. Smiles glowed on everyone’s faces Wednesday night, overjoyed to now be recognized as equal citizens in the eyes of the federal government, something a majority of the guests had waited years for.
Among those in attendance was Laguna resident Sandra Hartness, who said “when she heard the decisions, she wept with happiness.” The national co-chair of the Human Rights Campaign, Hartness and her partner Karen Ellis marched together with Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement. “It meant a lot to have Obama stand up for us. Civil rights are civil rights. Discrimination is discrimination. It doesn’t matter who you are,” Hartness said, quoting the president’s words.
Another activist Zoe Nicholson, of the OC LGBT community, said in a statement this week’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, effectively permitting gay marriage in California, was speaking beyond just the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. “We know who we are. We know when civil rights are denied to a minority it’s immoral,” Nicholson said. “We know that the right to marry and all of its benefits is a fundamental human right. Today the court spoke directly to people who mistakenly believe that civil rights only belong to those who define a family as man plus a woman with kids.”
While Laguna Beach’s gay community has diminished in recent years, it retains its identity as a stronghold for LGBT rights. A bare majority of California voters passed Prop. 8, forbidding recognition of same-sex marriages in 2008, but it was rejected two to one by voters in Laguna, which elected the nation’s first openly gay mayor in 1982. And resident Fred Karger made his own mark, leading boycotts of Prop. 8 contributors and pressing for an inquiry that resulted in election fraud fines of the Mormon Church. Karger was in New York and unable to join the rally in Laguna.
Two others who did toast the occasion, Ed Todeschini and John Ferrante, 31 year partners who married four years ago, described elation over the ruling, though to them its impact hasn’t completely sunk in. “Laguna Beach has stood up for its gay couples, long before it was ever popular. It protected them, and this is why so many stayed here. It has taken 20 plus years for the rest of the U.S. to catch up to Laguna. Thank you to Laguna Beach, thank you to the community leaders, for changing our lives. You gave our lives dignity and relationships dignity.”
Next week’s Fourth of July fireworks are likely to take on a special resonance for some as a celebration for equality.
Chapman University graduate Christine Carpenter is an aspiring writer and looks forward to her adventures as an Indy intern.