Marriage equality in CaliforniaFeature Story, Top Highlights Thursday, January 2nd, 2014
Six months … and counting
Yes, it actually has been six months since the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling struck down Prop. 8, restoring same-sex marriage to California; we trust and hope forever! We all remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news, along with the DOMA decision. For me, I was glued to a computer, my iPad and cell phone all at the same time, monitoring each moment, fighting back tears of joy!
But where are we after a half-year of marriage equality in California? We have already passed one milestone: we are well beyond that brief 4-1/2 month window in 2008 when same-sex marriages were legal in the Golden State and an estimated 18,000 took place.
How many same-gender couples have married in the state since June 26? The actual answer may be surprising: we don’t know! California does not track same-sex or opposite-sex marriages because the license applications do not ask the person’s gender. That fact is both challenging and refreshing.
Here is what we do know. The number of marriages dramatically rose in California in July compared to the same month in 2012, a 26 percent increase. At least 45 of California’s 58 counties registered an increase; in San Diego County, the upsurge was 29 percent! Compared to July, 2011, statewide there were 31 percent more in 2013. The California Department of Public Health has yet to release figures beyond July.
In June 2008, when a court ruling permitted same-sex marriage, figures showed a 12 percent increase in marriages over the same month the previous year. Two factors likely account for the greater numbers now: the long, hard-fought struggle for marriage equality during the past five years and the demise of DOMA’s Article 3 which barred recognition of same-sex couples in federal law for such purposes as government benefits, tax filings and Social Security benefits.
By its sheer size, the change in California raised the portion of the U.S. population living in marriage equality states to nearly 1/3. That figure has grown to 38 percent with the addition of more states, including New Mexico. Gay and lesbian marriage proposal videos now flood YouTube, same-sex couples in Hollywood are getting engaged and marrying, even more entertainers and athletes are coming out. Same-sex marriage is becoming culturally comfortable.
The state of Washington, which does track gender on marriage applications, may offer more insight. They report that 17 percent of its marriages in 2013 were same-sex weddings. 62 percent of those were lesbian couples. The rapid ascent to 17 marriage equality states (18 if Utah’s court decision holds) plus D.C. may well slow because of state laws and constitutional bans. Court cases and/or ballot proposals to reverse bans are proceeding in states such as Oregon, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Virginia, Nevada and Colorado. I would even add Wyoming as a wild-card possibility as the dominoes fall.
The DOMA decision is serving as a basis for challenges to marriage bans in states all across the country. Unlike the narrow Prop. 8 ruling affecting only California, DOMA’s changed how the federal government views same-sex couples in all 50 states. One or more of the new cases will likely go to the U.S. Supreme Court, forcing the judges to address issues of equal protection, inter-state marriage recognition and even the constitutionality of same-sex marriage itself. Yet, the death of Prop. 8 was a huge morale boost to the LGBT community nationwide.
Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) of San Diego reports some definite trends. Eighty four percent of same-sex marriages they have performed or scheduled have been for couples together for more than three years, with 68 percent in double-digit years together. 57 percent are male couples, and couples visiting from other states make up 16 percent.
But what about marriage beyond the numbers, on a personal level? Rev. Jerry Troyer of the Joyful Living Spiritual Center sees a sense of “overwhelming gratitude.” He adds that “we know that very soon everyone in the U.S. will have the opportunity to marry the person they love.” According to MCC Senior Pastor Rev. Dan Koeshall, couples are taking this step seriously: “They are planning, anticipating, being intentional and organized. I see real love and commitment. To skeptics who claim lesbians and gays look at marriage as a game or all about benefits, I can introduce them to a dozen loving couples who will set them straight – so to speak. All the ceremonies have been touching.” To his proclamation of recognition of the marriage, he now adds “and the government of the United States of America!”
Melanie Zemberi and Denise Dunham married in August and have found good support from friends and acquaintances alike. They say the “biggest personal change for us now has been getting used to the last name change!” Melanie adds, “In looking back, I feel a sense of pride, knowing our relationship and family are recognized and respected as a ‘traditional straight family’ would be.”
David and Kristoffer Kennelly literally cried through their July vows. Tears of joy, and yet, they knew it was the “biggest decision one can make.” David shares that “now I am constantly focused on the long-term future with my husband. In the past I was very good at sweeping things under the rug, or shutting down emotionally when faced with conflict; now I’m being a more responsible partner with both my feelings and my husband’s.”
The reality that couples are now planning weddings a year or more in advance says that the community believes that, this time, marriage equality is here to stay. California has regained its position as a cutting edge leader on the major civil rights issue of our time. As exciting as these six months has been, we look to the day when marriage inequality is a distant memory. Everywhere. And people wonder what all the fuss was about “way back when.”
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