June 27, 2013
Tiobbe Barron, OVN correspondent
The Supreme Court of the United States voted 5-4 Wednesday to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), as well as to uphold the repeal of Proposition 8 in California. DOMA, signed into law by former President Bill Clinton in 1996, restricts federal marriage benefits to heterosexual couples, even if same-sex couples were legally married within their state. Prop. 8 was a California voter ballot initiative that restricted marriage to only those between a man and a woman after a May 2008 California Supreme Court decision rendered same-sex marriage legal in this state. With this ruling, same-sex marriage is, in effect, legal again in California, and those couples married here are entitled to the federal marriage benefits, regardless of their sexual orientation.
“Well, we know we are not second-class citizens; it’s nice to have that affirmed,” says Ojai resident and Feast Bistro co-owner and manager Beryl Schwartz. “There are a handful of people who don’t get why this is such a big deal. Overturning DOMA is huge. One of the biggest issues we faced under that was with health care. One of the things that hetero people don’t get is how it is to be locked out of the hospital room where your loved one is getting care, or to be on the other side of that door, scared and only wanting your loved one beside you. There aren’t words.”
Schwartz, who has been with partner Susan Coulter for 26 years, explains that the difficulties for same-sex couples don’t end there.
“Civil unions are not the same as marriages, they do not provide equal protection under the law,” Schwartz explains. “It costs us money on our federal taxes every year because of DOMA; we couldn’t register as a domestic couple. The IRS sent a notification saying we were delinquent on our taxes, even though we were only doing what the federal government told us to do, and there are no forms for it … Ruling DOMA unconstitutional takes care of that for those who live in states where gay marriage is legal.”
“I wish that the Prop. 8 ruling was more broad, and I question some of the Supreme Court justices: If they think for one minute their job is not to protect the minority from the tyranny of the masses, then I think they need to revisit that,” offers Ventura resident and business owner Doug Halter. “It’s not about voters’ rule. It’s about protecting equal rights for all Americans, not picking and choosing who you like and don’t like, and who your
Despite this, Halter says the ruling is welcome news indeed. “I’m extremely elated by the news. This is something I never thought I would see in my lifetime.”
“It’s about time!” says Marche Gourmet manager Gay Martin. “This is a step in the right direction. It reflects the awakening consciousness of the country.”
Jessica Altman-Pollack, who married wife Loretta during the 2008 window in which same-sex marriages were legal in California, also finds the ruling validating.
“I finally feel like, five years later, I can celebrate my marriage, because it is properly recognized, and everyone around me has the same rights,” Altman-Pollack states.
Some locals stress that while they welcome the ruling, this is just the beginning of winning equality for all.
“I was gladdened to hear of the Supreme Court Ruling defeating Prop. 8 and DOMA, but also realize though this is a necessary step forward, there is still a very long way to go before the lesbian and gay community are afforded equal protection under the law on a national basis,” says Ojai resident Michael Cabaniss. “There are still 29 states that have anti-gay marriage statutes on their books, and until the entire nation can ratify this enlightened approach to what marriage is, no one can claim victory in this area. There is much work ahead, and I am encouraged to see the tide turning ever-so-slowly to make this country truly the home of the free.”
For some, the ruling represents not enlightenment, but rather the government dismantling of their core traditional values.
“The Court’s same-sex marriage decisions exalt immorality over morality in response to a cultural current of dissoluteness. The Court’s role should be to resist such trends, but the fallacy that one’s sexual identity demands the destruction of the institution of marriage to accommodate the libertine sensibilities of a minority of shrill activists has stunningly found acceptance with enough members of the Court to make these radical societal changes possible,” counters Los Angeles attorney William Becker, of the Becker Law Firm. “These decisions are a declaration of war against the moral and Christian foundations of the nation. They will only divide Americans, leading, ultimately, to a day of reckoning. Christians and Conservatives will only be emboldened by these decisions. The Becker Law Firm is weighing legal action to prevent the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples in California.”
Not all Christians agree with this view, however. “I don’t think we’d have any problem with that at all,” says Symphony of Life Church Rev. Karen Wiley,of marrying same-sex couples. “We embrace everyone at Symphony of Life.”
Rabbi Michael Lotker of K’hilat Ha’Aloneem, Ojai’s Jewish temple, says he also performs same-gender wedding ceremonies. Representatives from St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Our Lady And All Angels Liberal Catholic Church were unavailable for comment as of press time.
“Like straight people, many gay people in California wish to form life-long relationships, which the state will solemnize and dignify to promote stability and family life,” says Santa Monica attorney Laura Brill in her brief. “Many gay couples in California are raising children. Many gay teenagers in California need a vision of the future in which they are full participants in the life of their families and communities. In enacting Proposition 8, however, the 2008 voters eliminated more than the equal right to marry. Under principles of California law and current interpretations by the California Supreme Court, Proposition 8 eliminated the ability of those seeking equal marriage rights to avail themselves of any ability to pursue such rights through the political actions of their accountable elected representatives.”
Chief Supreme Court Justice John Roberts seems to view the law in a similar light.
“In this case, the petitioners, who oppose same-sex marriage, ask us to decide whether the Equal Protection Clause ‘prohibits the State of California from defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.’ Respondents, same-sex couples who wish to marry, view the issue in somewhat different terms: For them, it is whether California — having previously recognized the right of same-sex couples to marry — may reverse that decision through referendum,” said Chief Justice Roberts while issuing the ruling. “Federal courts have the authority under the Constitution to answer such questions only if necessary to do so in the course of deciding an actual ‘case’ or ‘controversy.’ As used in the Constitution, those words do not include every sort of dispute, but only those ‘historically viewed as capable of resolution through the judicial process.’ This is an essential limit on our power: It ensures we act as judges, and do not engage in policymaking properly left to elected representatives.”
“Seeing how things have changed over 30 years has been absolutely remarkable. It is a much wider, more accepting world out there,” sums up Ojai’s Schwartz. “I think the big picture here is that this is about the future. It makes life easier for those who come after us. So many places are accepting of same-sex couples, but in so many places there is still a stigma. Hopefully this begins to alleviate that.”
The Ventura County Courthouse has already begun booking appointments for gay and lesbian couples to wed — Coulter and Schwartz booked theirs Wednesday morning, for Aug. 1 — but it is unknown exactly how long it will take the courts to start issuing the licenses themselves. In a letter sent to all California
California Department of Public Health to advise the state’s counties that they must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in California as soon as the Ninth Circuit confirms the stay is lifted.”
In a letter sent to all California county clerks and recorders, the California Department of Public Health said, “We do not know when the Ninth Circuit will issue this order, but it could take a month or more.”