Gays Rejoice Over Court Ruling

Protesters took to Laguna's streets after Prop. 8's passage in 2008.

Laguna Beach’s Greg Collins, lucky enough to marry his partner Clark in 2008 during a short-lived amnesty legalizing gay marriage in the state, described feeling vindicated by this week’s court ruling overturning Prop. 8, which bans same-sex marriage.

When the measure passed in 2008, Collins said at the time that he “felt as if I had been punched in the stomach.” He was repulsed by supporters “use of the basest and most baseless fears about a segment of our community that simply wanted to commit monogamously to each other in deeply loving, traditional and long-lasting ways. As a father I heard these stereotypes through my children’s ears. Luckily they are still too young to understand.” The couple has two young boys.

Collins hopes the issue will be taken to the Supreme Court since “the persistence of discrimination that typified the Prop. 8 campaign is precisely why gay and lesbian couples and families require equal recognition and equal status under the law.”

Collins joined with much of California’s gay population that rejoiced Tuesday over the ruling by the three jurists of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The panel’s ruling upheld an August 2010 decision by federal Judge Vaughn R. Walker, then chief judge of the Northern District of California, that Prop. 8 violated the rights of gay men and lesbians.

“What a great day for all Californians, knowing that minorities can be protected from having their rights taken away,” said local gay activist and current presidential candidate Fred Karger.

Andy Pugno, general counsel for the coalition that backed Prop. 8, said he had not yet decided whether he would appeal to the Supreme Court or to a larger panel of the circuit court.

Supporters had known all along that the “battle to preserve traditional marriage” would ultimately be won or lost in the U.S. Supreme Court, Pugno said.

Supporters worked to place the controversial measure on the November 2008 ballot after the state Supreme Court threw out a voter proposition barring same-sex marriage that spring. Voters passed the measure by a margin of 52 to 48 percent, effectively amending the state constitution to specifically prohibit gay marriage. In Laguna, where the ballot measure lost by the highest margin in the county, more than 1,200 people staged a demonstration that literally stopped traffic for 20 minutes the weekend after the election.

During the brief window that gay marriages were legal in 2008 nearly 18,000 couples married.

Laguna Beach resident Gary Lefebvre, Ph.D., a university psychology professor, missed the window to marry his partner. He wants to see the battle over equal rights shift to the federal level. “I have a right to the 14th amendment just as my straight neighbors do, and when Prop. 8 was passed my right to the 14th amendment was taken away,” he said.

Though he has been in a committed relationship for 10 years, if his partner were to die, he would not inherit survivor’s benefits, such as social security. The disparity, Lefebvre said, “is a line in the sand that you can’t overlook.”

When his mother’s doctor informed Lefebvre of her expected death, his first thought was that his mother would not see him marry his partner, who she knew and loved. “We deserve equality because that’s what America is all about,” he said.

“All that Proposition 8 accomplished was to take away from same sex-couples the right to be granted marriage licenses and thus legally to use the designation ‘marriage’,” wrote Judge Stephen Reinhardt in the decision issued Tuesday, adding that “Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gay men and lesbians in California.”

“Just because a majority votes for something, doesn’t mean it’s right,” agreed Dr. Jorge Rodriguez, a Laguna Beach resident and past president of Irvine’s AIDS Services Foundation. If a majority mattered, women wouldn’t have the right to vote, he added, dispelling the claim of Prop. 8 supporters that the ruling ignores the voters’ will.

Rodriguez, a Cuban immigrant, believes in the judicial process and cherishes the constitution. Even though he understands that “some justices are ideologues who vote down party lines,” he remains hopeful that justice will prevail.

“The courts usually prevent majorities from taking away the rights of minorities, and they did that this time,” said Laguna Beach resident Audrey Prosser, a realtor and gay activist, who married her partner four years ago. She hopes the ruling will clarify the issue for people confused by the rhetoric and fear tactics of the 2008 campaign.

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