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In Oakland, optimism and hope about overturn of Prop. 8

on August 4, 2010

On Wednesday, joyous crowds took to the streets of San Francisco after U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker overturned Proposition 8, the ban against same-sex marriage, writing that the ban violated both the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

“Today, gender is not relevant to the state in determining spouses’ obligations to each other and to their dependents,” Walker wrote in the third part of the 136-page order. “Relative gender composition aside, same-sex couples are situated identically to opposite-sex couples in terms of their ability to perform the rights and obligations of marriage under California law. Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals.”

In Oakland, the reaction was more subdued and less organized than in San Francisco, in part because many of those who wanted to celebrate went to San Francisco for a planned march and rally. Both the Bench and Bar and the White Horse – Oakland’s most prominent gay bars – were relatively quiet on Wednesday evening. The people gathered there had come for a drink as they might on any night, rather than to celebrate the judge’s ruling, but many were still very happy to hear of Proposition 8’s overturn.

“I started crying,” said Johnny Cabral said as he sat at the White Horse Inn on Telegraph Avenue. He said it was too late for him to get married because his long-time partner passed away this January, but he was hopeful for others.

California’s State Supreme Court briefly legalized same-sex marriage in 2008; in the following six months, about 18,000 couples married, before voters approved Proposition 8 that November with 52 percent of the vote. Proposition 8 added a provision to the state constitution stating that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Two same-sex couples sued soon thereafter, arguing that the amendment violated their right to equal protection under the law. Closing arguments in the subsequent court case, Perry vs. Schwarzenneger, were completed this June.

The 18,000 marriages held during the six months before the passage of Proposition 8 are considered valid by the state, but other same-sex couples have been barred from marrying, a confusing legal mismatch.

“After the first round, we all celebrated,” Cabral said about day same-sex marriage was legalized in 2008. “Then what happened?” He’s now more cautiously optimistic.

Reactions from opponents of Proposition 8 have spanned from boisterous to tentative; same-sex marriage supporters know the ruling will be appealed to the Ninth Circuit, starting another round of waiting and wondering. Walker has ordered an indefinite stay on his own injunction, meaning that same-sex couples cannot marry in California just yet.

Nonetheless it was welcome news to many who were out in Oakland on Wednesday night.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Catherine Ficcardi, a friend of Cabral’s who was socializing in the back of the bar.

White Horse patron Kate Warren singled out Judge Walker for praise. “I applaud his bravery,” she said as she sat at the White Horse patio Wednesday evening. “The language of his decision positions us well to take the next step,” she said.

Some Oakland politicians also applauded the decision. “Today our legal system proclaimed a new era of equality under the law in California,” read a statement issued by the office of Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland’s first openly lesbian city council member. Oakland has the largest number of lesbian-headed households in the nation. Kaplan’s also running for mayor this November.

A tweet from her opponent, former State Senate President Don Perata, was similarly positive. “Once again, the courts have ruled to support a basic human right. It would be respectful & patriotic for the plaintiffs to go away quietly,” his campaign tweeted.

Former Oakland mayor Jerry Brown, now the state’s attorney general and a gubernatorial candidate, famously decided to oppose the proposition in December, 2008, after he initially agreed to support and defend it. Today, his office’s website carried a supportive message: “In striking down Proposition 8, Judge Walker came to the same conclusion I did when I declined to defend it,” Brown wrote.

There was little public sense of opposition to the ruling in Oakland Wednesday night, but some Proposition 8 supporters did go to San Francisco to register their disagreement at the courthouse. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – also known as the Mormon Church – in Salt Lake City also issued a statement that it “regrets today’s decision.”

However, those celebrating in Oakland seemed undaunted by the prospect of the legal battle ahead. “I think the only way this is going to be resolved is through the Supreme Court,” said Donald Cooper, who was having a drink early Wednesday evening in the sparsely-attended Bench and Bar in Uptown Oakland. “It’s a tremendous first step, part of a long range civil rights journey.”

Jealousy, a female impersonator who performs at the Bench and Bar, joined Cooper in the conversation, adding, “I know that, even if this gets overturned again, we’ll win in the end.”

Lead image: Outside the White Horse Inn Wednesday evening.

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  1. […] Judge Vaughn Walker has ruled that he will lift the stay on his ruling overturning Proposition 8, allowing same-sex couples to marry in California starting at 5 pm on August […]

  2. […] heard closing arguments that June, and on August 4, 2010, issued his ruling, overturning Proposition 8 and writing that the ban on same-sex marriages violates Californians’ constitutional rights […]

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