Gay Marriage: The 'Right Fight'?

California is offering marriage licenses to same-sex couples, with scores already flocking to say their vows. But some within the gay community believe there are bigger issues at hand. The Rev. Yvette Flunder and Monica Trasandes, leaders in California's gay community, discuss how the news is being received by communities of color, and whether gay marriage is the "right fight."

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CHERYL CORLEY, host:

I'm Cheryl Corley, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, same sex-couples in California prepare to get married, plus handling thorny issues and money, too. But first, California made history yesterday when it allowed same-sex couples to legally exchange marriage vows. It's the second state to marry same-sex couples after Massachusetts, but it will be the first that will allow couples from any state to get a marriage license. The move is expected to draw gay couples from across the nation. Although 45 states reject gay marriage and have laws that say marriage is between a man and woman, New York says it will honor new same-sex unions, and the fight may not be over in California. There is a proposed amendment that will be on the November ballot which could make same-sex marriages illegal.

Well, here to talk more about this are Monica Transandes, an official with GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and Bishop Yvette Flunder of the City of Refuge United Church of Christ in San Francisco. Welcome to the program.

Ms. MONICA TRANSANDES (Official, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation): Thank you.

Rev. YVETTE FLUNDER (Bishop, City of Refuge United Church of Christ, San Francisco): Thank you so much, Cheryl.

CORLEY: Well, Bishop Flunder, as I understand your church is predominantly African-American, predominantly gay, and I was wondering how people in your congregation have taken the news?

Rev. FLUNDER: Well, of course we're elated. We are feeling that the time has come for the marriages and relationships of same gender loving people to be acknowledged and affirmed. These marriages and relationships didn't begin with this legal action here in California, they've been going on for many, many years, but the rights afforded to those couples has been ramped up over time with domestic partnership, and then of course now with the opportunity to marry legally.

CORLEY: Do you have a read on the rest of the African-American religious community in your area as far as their response to the ability of same sex couples to get married?

Rev. FLUNDER: Well, what is very clear to me is that the atmosphere has shifted from a lot of the negativity that we experienced at the beginning, particularly of George W. Bush's administration, when the whole question of same-gender marriage was really used as a political plank, and a lot of folks made to fear that somehow same gender marriages were going to create issues and problems for heterosexual marriages. But truthfully over time, particularly in the African-American community, we have come to see the parallels between the rights for same gender people to marry, and for instance, the rights for African-Americans to marry coming out of slavery, the rights for interracial couples to marry. We're seeing the connections and the parallels for all of the times along the way when our marriages were not thought of as important and essential, and now our marriages are. We see that parallel between same gendered people and people of African descent historically.

CORLEY: Are many of your congregants planning to get married?

Rev. FLUNDER: Yes. There are a number of my folks that are planning to get married.

CORLEY: OK. Well, Monica, you are the director of the Spanish Language Media at GLAAD and I was wondering are you hearing from the Latino gay community of many marriages to come?

Ms. TRANSANDES: Yes. Definitely we're hearing of a lot of marriages to come. And I think that Latinos also are very gratified and they have a sense of joy, but also relief that now they will have the same legal protections that non-gay people enjoy for their unions, and, you know, those very important protections to be able to visit the person you care about in the hospital if anything happens to them, to be able to leave each other a home or whatever you've worked your whole life to build without, you know, worrying that family or that the legal system will take those things away from you or keep you away from your partner in a time when they need you the most. So I've heard a lot of Latinos are very, very happy. There are some folks that are getting married right away. Others are taking a bit of time to plan their marriages because it's, you know, tough to plan something in a month, but people are very happy, definitely happy.

CORLEY: To both of you, of course this could be moot in November depending on what happens with the vote to put in place a state constitutional amendment in California that would make marriage solely between a man and a woman, so you both have mentioned, you know, people who are planning to get married, but I wonder if people were choosing to wait just because of the possibility that this could, you know, be moot.

Rev. FLUNDER: I believe all of us are feeling very optimistic about the atmosphere right now. Fear-based politics and fear-based theology and religion simply doesn't last. Love wins, hate always loses. And legislating an injustice simply does not have the ability to stick. And we are confident that November will not change us back to a place where same gender loving people, and we're going to fight by the way, Cheryl, in every conceivable way that we can to insure that, make no mistake about it. But the whole atmosphere is shifting. We are finding ways to get to one another to cross the aisle and to help one another in every way we can.

CORLEY: Monica Trasandes, I guess that GLAAD is going to take an active role in this fight to make sure that that November question on the ballot is defeated?

Ms. TRANSANDES: Well, GLAAD works mostly with media, so we will definitely be working closely with media to ensure that the stories are told fairly, accurately, and inclusively, as well leading up to the initiative. And to make sure that people know what's at stake, that the media covers the story and covers the initiative, what it means, and what marriage means, what marriage equality means for us, for our community, so that's something we'll have a very strong role in, absolutely.

CORLEY: And are people - you talked about people waiting just because, you know, they have to plan their wedding, but I was wondering are people actually waiting as far as you know because they want to see what happens in November?

Ms. TRANSANDES: No. I agree with Bishop Flunder that people are optimistic, and that they feel that the court has spoken and that government should not be telling people whom they can marry, and so I think people are also optimistic that the right thing will happen, and that we will prevail in having equal rights for everyone.

CORLEY: If you are just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm speaking with Bishop Yvette Flunder and Monica Trasandes about gay marriage in California. Rev. Flunder, there are some who believe that this is not the right fight in the African-American community. I'm speaking of, that other issues are more important, and that those issues might be or have been sidelined by this issue of gay marriage, and I was wondering if you hear that sentiment at all and how you respond to it?

Rev. FLUNDER: Of course, I have heard that folks have said time and again, we need to be concerned about people who are undereducated, underinsured, the war, just one thing after another and after another, and I basically said to them that all of these things are equally important. What we have to see is the connection at the point of all of our marginalities. Essentially, we cannot shelve one marginality for another, and I think it's disingenuous to say that one is more important than the other. All of us need to find ourselves fighting together for the rights of other people, even if those issues do not directly affect us, and we have to remember that it was a time when women in this country could not vote, and it took a group of right-thinking men to vote women into the right to vote. Same thing for us as African-Americans. It took a group of right-thinking white people to vote us into the ability to vote, and the same thing will happen with heterosexual people who vote for the just cause of equal rights for same gender loving people.

CORLEY: Monica, the same question to you. Have you had people in the Latino community talk about whether or not this should be the issue that there's been such a hard fight over?

Ms. TRANSANDES: What I've heard is a lot of folks in the Latino community saying that they support equality, they understand discrimination. Discrimination is something that the Latino community has experienced, and knows about. And, I think we're seeing many more polls showing now that Latinos are against discriminating against, anyone.

I'm very gratified from what I hear from the folks I work with in the media I work with, that there is support, and I'm seeing a lot of support. Definitely, from allies saying, you know, we're happy for you this is something you should not be discriminated against. You should be able to marry the person you love. We understand that in the Latino community, we understand. And so, you know, it's something that we're seeing, and we're very happy to see.

CORLEY: Well, Monday was not exactly a big day for weddings, since the law didn't take effect until the evening. But, at least five county clerks around the state agreed to extend their hours to issue marriage licenses. And a lot of people planned to get married fairly quickly.

And I know Bishop Flunder, you said that this is something that people really shouldn't take lightly even though it might be a moment of great joy for them. That there's some planning that needs to go into this process, and not just what you wear on your wedding day, right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Bishop FLUNDER: Right, and the flowers you choose.

CORLEY: Right. So, what do you think people should be doing as they perhaps, plan their wedding?

Bishop FLUNDER: Well, I would encourage people to really talk to folks that they have confidence in, and if they have a spiritual adviser, or leader, or pastor. Because I think the institution of marriage has with it an historical degree of dysfunction. Essentially there are many, many heterosexual marriages that fail.

And we need to take a closer look at why those marriages fail. This is not something that should be done as a political statement. This is the blending of two lives, and possibly more than two lives, if, there are children involved. And there are families-in-laws, and nieces and nephews involved.

And what we don't want to do is see same-gender marriages perpetuate the dysfunction of heterosexual marriage. And so, I'm encouraging people to receive counseling to enter into marriage with some sobriety, some thoughtfulness, and perhaps to have a conversation with a legal entity around their lives to make sure that the blending of their lives is being done in a way that suits serving both people in the relationship properly.

CORLEY: Bishop Yvette Flunder of City of Refuge, United Church of Christ in San Francisco joined us from Member Station KQED. And Monica Trasandes, an official with GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, joined us from NPR West. Thank you both for joining us.

Bishop FLUNDER: Oh, thank you so much.

Ms. TRANSANDES: Thank you for having us here.

CORLEY: I'm Cheryl Corley in for Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Just ahead, we tackle everyday moral challenges with the ethics panel of "O, the Oprah Magazine." But first, we continue our discussion about California, and the new law which allows same sex couples to get married.

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