On Valentine’s Day, a group of same-sex couples and political activists advocating marriage equality gathered at the Sacramento County clerk’s office in a sign of solidarity as Poshi Mikalson and her partner, Reed Walker, symbolically applied for a marriage license.
The action, organized by Shelly Bailes and Ellen Pontac, Yolo County chapter leaders of Marriage Equality USA (MEUSA), has taken place every Valentine’s Day — the clerk office’s busiest day in the calendar — for over 15 years. Similar action was coordinated by MEUSA across the U.S., with events being held in San Francisco; Houston, Texas and Columbus, Ohio among other locations.
Requesting the permit is a purely symbolic move, as state law currently prohibits same-sex marriage.
“This is the first time we’ve been able to participate rather than just show our support,” Mikalson said.
Mikalson was visibly overwhelmed following the county clerk’s rebuff.
“I started to choke up and tears came to my eyes. I was surprised I became so upset even though I had known all along what was going to happen,” Mikalson said.
Pontac agreed that having an application for a marriage license rejected has a profound psychological impact.
“It is absolutely heartbreaking to know that you are truly treated as a second-class citizen,” she said. “To see that happening to your friends is unbelievably painful.”
The atmosphere outside the Sacramento County clerk’s office was further soured by the presence of a small group of opposition protesters holding aloft a banner asserting that marriage should remain exclusively between one man and one woman.
Bailes felt the best response to the protesters, who were wearing American River College T-shirts, was to ignore them.
“Speaking with them only agitates us and that’s what they want. They want to draw attention to the fact they’re there, and if nobody speaks to them, nobody gives them the attention they want,” she said.
Pontac, furthermore, noted that the dwindling numbers of protesters opposing same-sex marriage in recent years illustrates the shift occurring in public opinion.
“There used to be a lot more of them, but they’re getting less and less,” she said. “They’re losing, and I think they know they are. It’s a difficult fight to keep fighting if you know you are on the losing side.”
Pontac and Bailes went on to share a defiant kiss in front of the protestors. The couple, who have been together for 39 years, took the opportunity to wed during the brief window in 2008 when same-sex marriage was legal in California.
That window was closed following the passage of Proposition 8, which narrowly passed in California during the 2008 electoral cycle. Prop. 8 — which amended the state Constitution so that only marriages between a man and a woman would be recognized — created a legal loophole, in that the California Supreme Court had legalized same-sex marriage six months prior.
That decision could be overturned yet again as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear the case for Prop. 8 on March 25.
The case against Prop. 8 will negate the legal standing of its proponents and could see it nullified, as the proposition would be found unconstitutional. Should that be the outcome, the way would be paved for same-sex marriages to be legalized in California, while a case being heard the following day could see the Defense of Marriage Act overturned, meaning that the federal government would also recognize same-sex marriage.
That prospect has raised the hopes that Mikalson and Walker would be permitted to legally wed after a decision is reached sometime in June.
“I’m hoping they do the right thing and step on the right side of history,” Mikalson said.
In contrast, proponents of Prop. 8 are pushing for the Supreme Court to uphold the proposition.
“The lower courts rejected all relevant Supreme Court and appellate court precedent. We are confident that the Supreme Court will uphold its precedent and affirm California’s freedom to protect marriage,” said ProtectMarriage.com lead counsel Charles J. Cooper with the Cooper & Kirk law firm.
The Supreme Court case comes at a time when the issue of same-sex marriage is firmly etched on to the global political agenda.
In Britain, a bill legalizing marriage between homosexual couples recently passed the House of Commons on Feb. 5, with the lower house of the French Parliament following suit shortly thereafter Feb. 12. The Illinois Senate, moreover, passed a measure only last Thursday that raises the promise of legalization of same-sex marriages within that state.
With political pressure mounting, advocates believe it is only a matter of time before same-sex marriages are legalized across the U.S.
“We know we’re winning in the court of public opinion and we know eventually we will win. It’s just a matter of time,” Bailes said.
This is a sentiment that is echoed in Congress, with an increasing number of prominent politicians speaking out in favor of same-sex marriage.
“I hope this is the last year any committed loving couple in California has to request a marriage license symbolically. Marriage equality will be here soon, and it can’t come soon enough,” said Congressperson John Garamendi, who represents California’s third district, in an email.
While marriage equality remains arguably the most attainable goal to redress the civil rights grievances facing the LGBT community, Mikalson acknowledges that should the Supreme Court rule against Prop. 8, there would still be much progress to be made.
“The right to marry is not the be-all and end-all of civil rights for people whose sexual orientation or gender identity do not fit with society’s norms,” Mikalson said. “This is just one step. It’s not the entire fight.”
JOE STEPTOE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: This article has been changed to correct grammatical errors.