I was sitting in the Castro district’s La Tortilla taqueria with a group of friends after the Trans March on June 24 when I got the HRC text message. “Marriage victory in New York,” read the message from the Human Rights Campaign. I yelled out the news to the entire restaurant, and everyone cheered.
Moments later, an impromptu gathering of Marriage Equality USA members and supporters began parading up and down Castro street outside the taqueria, waving signs and loudly proclaiming the news to anyone who wasn’t already reading about it on a smartphone. Each time the sign-carriers passed La Tortilla, all the customers in the restaurant cheered and applauded.
The news that New York had become the sixth–and by far the largest–US state to legalize same-sex marriage was especially welcome in this last weekend in June, the 41st annual weekend of San Francisco LGBT Pride.
However, the rejoicing was tempered for many of the diners around us by a frustration that California marriage equality remains out of reach. Some in the restaurant talked loudly of moving to the Empire State. Others said “Hooray for New York, but what’s wrong with California?”
Indeed, marriage between same-sex couples was only legal in California for several months in 2008, during which some eighteen thousand gay twosomes tied the knot. The weddings, which had been legalized by a California Supreme Court decision in May 2008, were stopped short by the passage that November of Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment ballot initiative that rescinded the right of same-sex couples to marry.
In August 2010, Federal District Judge Vaughn Walker declared Prop 8 unconstitutional, but stayed his own ruling until the marriage ban proponents could appeal the decision. Earlier this month, Prop 8 supporters attempting to have Judge Walker’s decision thrown out because Walker is himself gay were stymied by District Judge James Ware, who cited other decisions allowing female jurists to rule on gender discrimination cases.
Still, the battle for marriage equality in California will likely be tied up in judicial appeals for years to come, so the best we Bay Area civil rights supporters can do for now is to celebrate our vicarious victory in New York.