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Marriage is only a matter of time say those at nation’s oldest gay bar

on June 4, 2009

Gilbert De Jesus remembers where he was when he heard last week’s news that  the California Supreme Court upheld the proposition that changed the state constitution to outlaw gay marriage.

The general manager of the White Horse Inn – established in 1932 and serving as one of the oldest gay and lesbian bars in the United States—was in the back office.

“I’m really disgusted,” said De Jesus, who is among the 18,000 couples married after the California court upheld gay marriage in May 2008 and before 52 percent of California’s voters outlawed it by approving Proposition 8.  In their 186-page ruling, the justices voted unanimously to uphold those marriages.

“Why did we have a deadline?” He asked referring to the narrow time frame gay couples could legally marry.” We’re humans. We pay taxes. Why the deadline?”

On the night of the decision last Tuesday, The White Horse Inn was ready to update its clients, but many had left to participate in one of the marches protesting the court’s decision. “There was a lot of anger,” said De Jesus about the atmosphere at the bar.

Deborah Hoffman, a documentary film maker  who lives in Rockridge, said the initiative process upheld by the court made little sense. “We are at the mercy of these votes based on very little information and a lot of emotion.”

Hoffman, who has been in a relationship with her same-sex partner for 25 years, believes it’s only a matter of time before same sex marriage is legal – not only in California but in the nation as well.

“The train has left the station. It’s going to happen. People have to do the hard work of outreach.”

For Hoffman, 61, it’s been the absurdity of the legal system that should cause frustration in the Oakland community.

“There are 18,000 couples who married in that time frame. They’re still married. Either married is defined one way or it isn’t. We’re on a Saturday Night Live skit,” said Hoffman. “Nobody who is thinking logically can possibly think this makes sense.”

The court’s decision on Tuesday did not rule on gay marriage, but rather the voter’s rights to change the state constitution – a right that has long been upheld by the courts.

Don Eaton, the director of public affairs, for the Mormon Church San Francisco which contributed in-kind donations of $189,903.58 to the Proposition 8 campaign, advised a reporter to consult the web site for the church’s view.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recognizes the deeply held feelings on both sides, but strongly affirms its belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman,” it says.

Eaton said only 2 percent of Californians belong to the Mormon Church but its funding for the proposition made it pubic enemy number one. A web site using information from the California Secretary of State and an almanac of Mormons, tracked more than $16 million in direct donations to the yes campaign from individual Mormans.

Dan Dean, an attorney and a member of the gay community, doesn’t feel his personal and professional life contradict in any way.

“What it comes down to,” said Dean. “It’s not gay specific or marriage specific. The question is, should the majority be allowed to have an amendment that is discriminatory put in the constitution. That’s the problem with Proposition 8.”

“Discrimination is allowed because 52 percent voted for it. That’s not right.”

Dean believes that the only reason Proposition 8 made its way into the ballot is because  the nation’s collective consciousness still allows the ridicule of  the gay community to continue.

“Let’s say someone said blacks can’t marry white people,” said Dean. “It’s so offensive you couldn’t get 52 percent to vote for that. It would have smacked more of discrimination.”

For Dean, gay marriage is something voters should not be able to decide on. “I’m a gay man,” said Dean. “So somebody in Fresno is going to decide if it’s okay for me to marry?”

“I don’t understand it as a lawyer,” said Eaton, who has practiced law for 17 years.

A couple of days after the ruling – The White Horse Inn remained somber. A few customers hung out at the corner of the bar to  drink beer.

Aaron Roberts’ said his protesting days are over.

“I just can’t keep up,” said Roberts

“Freedom for all?” said Roberts a North Oakland resident. “Yeah right. We need to edit that.”

“There’s nothing you can do about human nature,” said the elderly resident, a shiny steel walker,  next to him. “if someone wants to marry their dog, as long as the dog don’t bite you, who cares?”

“It’s the same thing with racism. Just leave people the hell alone.”

Vicky Verdugo , an  employee at the White Horse Inn, said she was off-duty and enjoying a beer. Verdugo recalled in 2000 when she came out as a bisexual. Then her daughter came out.

“Let people be who they want to be,” said Verdugo who has been married five times to men. “Let it go. Let it be.”

“There’s a lot of angry people around here,” said the Vallejo resident who commutes to North Oakland for part time work and full time friendships.

“You have to watch what you say and your beliefs,” said Verdugo, who keeps her identity to herself at home but feels more at home at the bar.

There was a time Verdugo believed gays shouldn’t marry.
“There was a time in my life where I would have said ‘how could a man be gay or a woman be lesbian?’ I was hypocritical,” said Verdugo.

“People need to move on. They will need to overlook all of that. Let the people be people.”

Later in the afternoon, there’s a sense of camaraderie in the bar. Faye Bruno, an air quality engineer  who lives in Temescal
said her daughter is “married to a white guy.”

“When I was her age that was illegal. Gay marriage is only a matter of time.”

For Bruno, and many at the bar, the wheels of the legal system turn slowly. But they turn.

“Even though we can’t see it physically right now, we’ve already won. I’m not upset. When a place like Iowa says it’s okay to marry then it’s just a matter of time.”

The first black woman to graduate from Colorado State University with a bachelors degree in chemical engineering, she said Proposition 8 is not the end of the same sex marriage story.

“You don’t change the constitution willy-nilly. The constitution gave me the right to vote. It gave me the right not to be a slave anymore.”

“The Constitution is a place where you give people rights. Not take them away.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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