By Lisa Keen
Keen News Service
On a high bluff overlooking a vast span of Pacific Ocean and sun-drenched shoreline, Candy Cox and Debra Peevey got married on June 28 in southern California.
They had been together for 24 years, living in Washington state, then the Washington, D.C. area, then Mexico, and now Arizona. They had “tied the knot” 21 years ago at a ceremony in a Seattle hotel.
But last month’s ceremony was different in more ways than just geography and time. The 1987 event, recalled Peevey during the ceremony, was attended by 65 friends but only one family member. It was “a completely traditional wedding ceremony,” she explained, “only it didn’t have the name, it would never be legal.”
The recent ceremony was a less traditional one, and a more intimate gathering of only 24 guests. But this time, there were many family members in attendance – and this time, it was legal.
In 1987, Peevey recounted, “we paused to celebrate the wonder of our relationship in the middle of waging a battle for our civil rights.” The year had been a pivotal one for the national gay civil rights movement and Peevey had been waging her part of it as a member of the clergy in the Disciples of Christ, delivering a sermon to say it was a sin to exclude gays from the congregation. A quarter of the congregation tried to have her ousted as minister and, when they failed, they quit the congregation.
“Something was beginning to change and we were part of it,” said Peevey, who held a commitment ceremony with Cox three months after that sermon. “And slowly but surely, you all became a part of it too.” Peevey was speaking to her family and friends, but she said they were also “a microcosm of America.”
“All over the United States,” she said, “this has been happening.”
“This,” the civil rights movement, has been happening all over America. But only in Massachusetts, beginning in May 2004, and in California, beginning June 16 of this year, has that movement included the right to obtain a marriage license for same-sex couples.
Finding out how many licenses have been issued to same-sex couples in those two states is difficult. The state agencies in charge aren’t keeping track of how many licenses are issued to gay couples and how many to straight couples. Suanna Buggy, a press spokesperson for California’s Department of Public Health, said data on marriage licensing is reported quarterly, so numbers in general won’t be known for sure until the end of the current quarter in August or September.
However, the Los Angeles Times called individual county clerk offices and counted more than 8,500 couples – most of them, but not all, same-sex couples – obtained marriage licenses between June 16 at 5:01 p.m. and June 23.
The California Supreme Court ruling went into effect at 5:01 p.m. on June 16, requiring the state to comply with the state constitutional mandate that all couples be treated equally in marriage licensing. The ruling struck down a state law passed in 2000 by an initiative that banned same-sex marriages.
Party ‘A’ and Party ‘B’
To accommodate same-sex couples, the state amended its marriage license application in much the same way as Massachusetts – allowing applicants to put one of the spouses-to-be as “Party A” and the other as “Party B.”
Secretary of State Debra Bowen issued a statement saying that the Domestic Partners Registry had received more than 50 calls a day since May 15, when the California Supreme Court issued its ruling.
“The most common question,” said Bowen, “is, ‘How does the court’s ruling affect my registered domestic partnership?’ The answer is, not at all.”
“The California Family Code is very clear about the requirements for forming a domestic partnership, as well as how and when a partnership may or must be dissolved. As long as a couple meets the legal criteria for a domestic partnership, it can remain on California’s Domestic Partnership Registry. If same-sex couples choose to marry, I would suggest that they maintain their partnership registration because most other states do not recognize same-sex marriages, but many do recognize domestic partnerships.”
Since 2000, 48,809 couples had registered as domestic partners in the state; but the Secretary of State’s office said it did not have any data on how many of those were same-sex and how many heterosexual.
Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel with Lambda Legal’s western office, said her organization recommends couples who decide to marry in California also consider obtaining (or keeping) a domestic partnership registration.
“The issue is not significant differences between the rights conferred by marriage and by registered domestic partnership,” said Pizer. It’s because “other states vary about what state-law statutes they respect.” For instance, said Pizer, New York and Massachusetts will respect a same-sex couple’s marriage license from California, but Oregon and Washington state respect only the domestic partnerships.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the 8,500 marriage licenses issued during the first week in which same-sex marriage was legal in California was “more than two and half times an average June week.” The paper said “county clerks in many locations indicated the majority went to gay and lesbian couples.”
In Los Angeles County, noted the Times, 1,806 licenses were issued from 5:01 p.m. June 16 through June 23. That was nearly twice the average for the week. San Diego County issued 864 (up from 225 per week), San Francisco County issued 849 (up from 120), Riverside County issued 493 (up from 45), and Orange County issued 667 (up from 150).
Ballot Measure’s impact
Some are contending that Proposition 8, a ballot measure seeking to ban same-sex marriages by amending the state constitution, could – if approved by voters in November – retroactively invalidate the marriage licenses of these couples. In an op-ed in Monday’s Los Angeles Times, Kenji Yoshino, a Yale Law School professor, says he thinks it will.
Yoshino was last year’s winner of the Randy Shilts Award, named for the late openly-gay San Francisco Chronicle journalist and author. Yoshino won the award for his gay non-fiction book, Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights.
“The proposed amendment does not say that ‘only a man and woman may get married in California,’ which might reasonably be construed to apply just to future marriages. It says that ‘only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.’
The latter phrasing, says Yoshino, would enable a court to interpret the intent of the amendment to stop “any governmental body in California” from recognizing a same-sex marriage, even one granted by the state.
Yoshino says the validity of the same-sex marriage licenses could be tested, however, in the federal courts.
That challenge, of course, would almost certainly land the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court.
But Lambda’s Pizer said she thinks there are “strong arguments” against invalidating same-sex marriage licenses obtained between now and November, should Proposition 8 pass.
“Among other reasons, there has been a strong family law presumption in California in favor of upholding marriages entered into validly,” said Pizer. “At the same time, this is a new situation and there are legal precedents on both sides of the argument. So while we disagree with where Kenji Yoshino comes down about the likely continued validity of June-November marriages, we agree with him strongly that it is absolutely imperative that we stop Proposition 8 on election day.”
The Los Angeles Times reported June 29 that supporters of the constitutional ban in California have already raised $2.3 million, while opponents have raised $1.3 million. The Human Rights Campaign has contributed $430,000 as of June 30, plus an additional $963,450 in in-kind contributions.