Same-sex marriage hearing sparks demonstration in San Francisco

Same-sex marriage hearing sparks demonstration in San Francisco

Demonstrators spoke out at a rally during hearings on same-sex marriage at the federal courthouse in San Francisco on Dec. 6

the Legend staff

It was your typical “only in San Francisco” protest: On the morning of Dec. 6, the song “We Shall Overcome” drifted out from the crowd massed in front of the federal courthouse in downtown San Francisco. A man with a loudspeaker, apparently opposed to whatever was about to take place, stood across the street, yelling, “aaaarrrrgggghhhh!”

This colorful scene outside the James R. Browning Courthouse was utterly unlike what was about to take place inside, where three judges of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals were going to meet at 10 a.m. to hear final arguments on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage. Attorneys would present their intricate legal arguments for more than two hours.

At the rally, Max Philp, a 17-year-old senior at Menlo-Atherton High School in Atherton, Calif., shared his opinion that “banning same-sex marriage is like legalizing homophobia.”

Proposition 8 passed in 2008 with 52 percent of the vote. However, on Aug. 4, Judge Vaughn Walker, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the northern District of California, overturned Proposition 8. Twelve days after Walker’s decision, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court enacted a stay on gay marriages until it could rule on the constitutionality of Proposition 8.

At the courthouse before the hearing, those against the proposition outnumbered those supporting it. While there were fewer than 100 protesters in total, five police officers guarded the doors, ready to intervene quickly if violence erupted.

Proposition 8 supporters carried signs such as “one nation under God — not the 9th circuit!” Mark Steven, a member of the Street Preachers, a conservative religious advocacy group from Los Angeles, said he sees the issue as “a benchmark for where the country is headed.” For him, “marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Others echoed his view. “I’m not up on the situation,” said Kevin Israel of San Francisco, referring to the legal battles over Proposition 8. “I’m just here to reject homosexuality.”

But there was opposition to Proposition 8 as well. “Marriage equality and the high school bullying epidemic that has plagued our nation for decades go hand in hand with making same sex marriage illegal. We are teaching children in our schools that it is okay to put down a certain group of people … we are teaching our children that it is okay to bully LGBT youth,” said Philp. The crowd received Philps’ words with murmurs and nods of agreement.

Other speakers made it clear that the court’s ruling will affect their futures. “I will one day find a man, and I will fall in love, and I will want to have kids … I want to have a strong family that is recognized by my state and my country,” said Andrew Bristow, a student at American River College in Sacramento.

But that vision was quickly countered. “You don’t know what love is. All you know is anal sex!” shouted a stout bearded man from the counter-protest across the street. The challengers of Proposition 8 responded by launching into Christmas jingles with alternative lyrics about equal rights.

Both advocates and opponents of same-sex marriage focused on the idea of family. “You can’t give someone the profound experience of being married and take it back,” said Maya Scott-Chung, creative director of The Loving Quilt and a community liaison at Marriage Equality USA, a pro same-sex marriage group.

She also described how her young daughter, Luna, carried around a bouquet of plastic flowers for months after Scott-Chung mentioned the possibility that she might get married. “I know I want to be a flower girl at your wedding,” Luna told her mother.

Ironically, the Street Preachers’ Steven also worries that allowing same-sex marriage will “break down the family,” and that “if you let gays and lesbians marry, then polygamists (will) too.”

Steven said that Proposition 8 is being contested on the grounds of unconstitutionality, but “the constitution says all men are equal, an unalienable right given by the creator. The founding fathers knew what God that was.” This God, he continued, would not permit any marriage other than one between a man and a woman.

The language that Steven invoked is in fact in the Declaration of Independence, which states that “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

James Fitzpatrick, a supporter of repealing of Proposition 8, disagreed with Steven’s views.

“I’m here because I want to show support for the unconstitutionality of Prop 8,” said Fitzpatrick. He and his husband, Peter Walsh, were married at San Francisco City Hall in 2004, when the city briefly legalized same-sex marriage.

“That was truly the best day of our lives,’ said Fitzpatrick. “We spent the full day standing in line … we literally got there at 8 a.m. and were married at 6 p.m.”

Fitzpatrick described himself as “consciously hopeful that Prop 8 will be overturned.”

“We have come a long way,” he said, noting that “it was almost seven years ago that the battle with marriage began.”

A decision by the Ninth Circuit Court is not expected for at least a couple of weeks and possibly a couple of months. Whatever the outcome of the 9th Circuit Court hearings, demonstrators said they expect to face off again. Both sides have said they will appeal the decision. The case is therefore expected to go to the Supreme Court, which is expected to announce in October if they will take up the case.

“We’re going to keep fighting, and twits like that will keep fighting!” said Joan Baldrich, 30, pointing to same-sex marriage opponents across the street.

Israel, one of those opponents, also is prepared for a fight though he’s fatalistic about the outcome.

“I think eventually it’s going to happen,” he said, referring to legalizing same-sex marriage. Opposing it, he added, is like going up against a “tidal wave.”

—This story was written by Adrienne von Schulthess and reported by Annakai Geshilder, Marney Kline, Sarah Maccabee and von Schulthess