Revolution#134, June 29, 2008

Reporter’s Notebook from San Francisco

A Looming Battle as
California Marries Gay Couples

Beginning at 5:01 pm on June 16, same sex couples had the right to marry in California. For centuries, gays and lesbians have been denied this basic right. Their relationships have been driven underground by a vicious stigma, by the threat of jail and violence. Now, gay and lesbian couples have the basic right—at least in California at the present moment—to have the formal legal and economic status that comes with official marriage.

The weddings follow a May 15 decision by the California State Supreme Court, which ruled that laws that have excluded gay and lesbian couples from the right to marry were unconstitutional.

Outside San Francisco City Hall hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the first wedding. Here in San Francisco, the first couple to get married was 87-year-old Del Martin and 83-year-old Phyllis Lyon, who have been at the forefront of the gay rights movement since they moved in together in 1953. The mood was festive, with people singing along as the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band played. Cheers went up from the crowd as people went in and out of the building.

There were a small number of rabid anti-gay marriage protesters. These reactionaries carried signs reading, “Homo Sex Is a Threat to National Security,” “God Hates Fag Enablers,” and “Homo Sex is Sin.” Two men in “Love Jesus” T-shirts carried a large banner calling for the criminalization of gay sex. When a man in the crowd suffered an apparent heart attack, one of the Christian protesters shouted at his unconscious body, “Satan Got You! What is the Devil whispering in your ear about now?”

People were angry that these bigoted people dared to come out and began yelling at and mocking these fools. Others took pictures kissing in front of a banner that said “Re-criminalize Sodomy.” A big sign had pictured the cover of the new book by Bob Avakian, Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World.

The next day was the first full day of weddings in San Francisco and the rest of the state. There were a lot of people—from gay activists to revolutionary communists to progressive religious people—in front of San Francisco City Hall to celebrate and congratulate those getting married. Members of a local Unitarian church passed out cupcakes and offered gay couples the use of their church for weddings. An Anglican minister held a sign that said, “Franciscans for Same Sex Marriage.” A progressive Jewish temple set up a chuppah (canopy) that is part of the Jewish wedding ceremony.

Revolution spoke to a man standing on the steps of City Hall waving a rainbow flag. “I’m here to support my brothers and sisters in this cause to become equal. We deserve it after all these years of being second class citizens. I wanted to show my support and be there for them even though I’m not getting married,” he said. People with the RCP were also there supporting the right for gay people to marry.

Another couple, dressed in tuxedos, who had been together for 12 years and were married four years ago in San Francisco only to have that marriage annulled by the courts, talked about why they felt they had to be married on the first day, “We wanted to be part of history and be here with all the other couples.” His partner added, “It’s nice to have the same rights as everyone else.”

A group of college students drove up from San Jose to be part of the celebration in San Francisco. Holding up a brightly colored sign with rainbow lettering, one of the students told Revolution, “Everyone should be able to get married. It’s like validation for being a human being. That our feelings are real and that our relationships are real.” One of the other students asked, “How can you ban love?”

A Looming Battle

While many were celebrating, groups opposing gay marriage have been mobilizing to whip up hate and prejudice against gays and lesbians and to turn things back.

The clerks of both Merced and Kern Counties said that they will no longer officiate at any weddings, although couples (both same-sex and different sex) will still be allowed to file for marriage licenses. This is reminiscent of the decisions by racist city officials during the civil rights movement who shut down public facilities rather than see them integrated. These clerks sought legal advice from the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group that is about filing lawsuits to break down the division between church and state in the U.S.  In the days leading up to June 16, Alliance Defense Fund went to federal court in an effort to block the marriages.

Christian fascist religious forces collected more than 750,000 signatures for an initiative that will appear as a constitutional amendment on California’s November ballot and, if approved, will write into the state constitution that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. These forces have announced that they were going to spend tens of millions of dollars and bring in reactionary anti-gay forces from around the country in an attempt to pass this bigoted initiative.

Billionaire Howard Ahmanson, the initiative’s largest supporter, donated $400,000 so far. Ahmanson has ties to what is known as Christian Reconstructionism, the idea that civil society should be ruled by biblical law. In 2004 Ahmanson said that he doesn’t think that it is “essential” that a society stone to death people who oppose biblical law, although a society that chooses to do this should be supported.

Another major backer of the initiative is the group Focus on the Family, headed by James Dobson. Dobson is one of the most influential leaders of the Christian fascist movement and is known for accusing Sponge Bob Square Pants of promoting the “homosexual agenda.” Dobson has said that gay marriage “will destroy the earth.” (The Daily Oklahoman, October 23, 2004)

Christian fascist forces like these have tremendous influence throughout the government and the military. And they view gay marriage as threatening to patriarchal (male-dominated) social relations in society. Gay marriage, in itself, is not going to undermine and destroy patriarchy. But, in a society in which patriarchy is an essential and defining element, even breaking out of the more traditional forms of patriarchy—such as raising the demand for formal equality in same-sex relations—is seen by sections of the U.S. ruling class as a serious challenge to traditional oppressive relations.

In recent years, the forces opposing gay marriage have pushed out their hateful agenda nationally. They have tried to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning gay marriage. Twenty-seven states currently have constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. Forty-one states have passed laws that say that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. And let’s not forget that in most parts of this country, including in California, a same-sex couple walking down the street hand-in-hand risks a beating, if not their lives.

There is a need for those who oppose the discrimination of gay people and the ripping away of women’s rights to recognize the implications of the battle around gay marriage in California and actively resist. Who wants to live in a world where people are hounded, discriminated against, degraded, and killed for their sexual orientation?  

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