Gay Marriage Ruling Creates Separate Rights
Gay Marriage Ruling Creates Separate Rights
The California Supreme Court ruled Tuesday to uphold Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in the state. But the court also said the 18,000 couples who were married last year could remain married. It's the first time a state has banned same-sex marriage, while allowing some couples to retain the right. Two gay California residents — one married, and one unmarried — discuss the ruling's affect on their lives.
JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:
I'm Jennifer Ludden. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away this week.
Coming up a new organization seeks to ease tensions between immigrants of African descent and the African-American community but are their real economic reasons behind the rest, more in a moment. First the California Supreme Court rules Tuesday to uphold Proposition 8, the measure voted into law last year banning same-sex marriage in the state. But for many of the 18,000 gay couples there who wed while same-sex marriage was legal, the ruling is bitter sweet.
While the court upheld the ban on gay marriage, it said those already married can stay so under the law. It's the first time a state has revoked the right for same-sex couples to marry while allowing some to keep their vows intact. Joining me now to talk about this peculiar situation and how it's resonating in the gay community, Reverend Deborah Johnson, she is the founding minister of Inner Light Ministries, a non denominational church in the Santa Cruz area. She and her wife Valerie Joi were married last year. She joins us from the studio of the University of Santa Cruz. And with her there in the studio is Van Vugner(ph). He and his partner Philip Gomez(ph) have been together for 11 years but chose not to get married, when doing so was legal. Welcome to both of you.
Mr. VAN VUGNER: Thank you.
Mr. PHILIP GOMEZ: Thank you.
LUDDEN: Deborah Johnson, let me begin with you. We've talked to you on this program before as an activist who spent quite a bit of time campaigning for gay marriage in California, how did you hear this news?
Reverend DEBORAH JOHNSON (Founder and President, Inner Light Ministries): We actually called for special gathering at our church. We knew that there would be many people who would want to hear the news and some sort of solidarity. We have a very mixed community. We knew that no matter how the decision came down that they were going to be lot of emotions. So we wanted to create a space for dialogue.
LUDDEN: Well, then there was this split decision against gay marriage but in favor of those already married. How did that go over in the crowd?
Rev. JOHNSON: It was very hard and for those of us who were in fact legally married, it just put us in a state of extreme mixed emotions. On the one hand, we knew that we were very privileged to still be able to have our marriages but on the other hand to uphold our marriages and Proposition 8 put this shadow of a question of the validity of our marriages. We really feel like we've been marginalized, that it's made us tokens and that's the real definition of a token, a few, some but in fact not all. It's created a double standard for our relationships and we feel that, in the public eye, that cannot help but cast a cloud of inferiority on our relationships in the public eye.
LUDDEN: Van, you are not married. Did you think that Prop 8 would be upheld? And was that any factor when you and your partner talked about whether or not to get married?
Mr. VUGNER: Yes. I believe you know, we always felt like it was inevitable that gay marriage would be allowed in California. It's almost embarrassing the California is behind now.
LUDDEN: So was this a shock then? I mean, did you have plans to maybe get married at some point and then?
Mr. VUGNER: The election itself was a shock, you know, November 8 really kind of surprised me. This decision I really didn't know how was going to come down. I thought it would be nice as a quick way of resolving it but I wasn't so sure it was going to work. Now I see we're going have to take care of this the hard way. But I think in the end it will be better that way.
LUDDEN: Deborah, how does it feel to be married now when suddenly others in your community can't do that?
Rev. JOHNSON: It is truly a bittersweet. We made a hard decision as did a lot of couples to pull the plug on our formal ceremonies. So many of us that had small legal ceremonies when we were able to - were planning big formal, you know, with friends, family at our church…
LUDDEN: Did you have a date?
Rev. JOHNSON: in celebration. Oh yes it was going to be on the one year anniversary on October the 10th. And we just feel like, in good conscience, that we cannot do that. That in good conscience we cannot celebrate, you know, our marriage when the door has been closed on everyone else who is in our situation. It, to me, just further tokenizes, you know, our marriage. But I do believe in justice and I do believe that justice will prevail. I think there's an extra burden that's on those of us whose marriages are still valid to keep up the struggle, to keep up the fight, to put a face on it because these discussions are happening in the abstract and they are forgetting that they're very real people, very real relationships. And they need to see that we are alive, we are well and just as well adjusted as anybody else.
LUDDEN: By canceling your ceremony, I mean it all sounds like you're- you've got something of survivors guilt. I mean do you think this is going to affect your everyday life? Are you- may be not going to use the word my wife in the ways that you have?
Rev. JOHNSON: I will forever use the word, my wife, because she is my wife to me. And no, I don't think that it's just a question of survivor's guilt. I some respect it is very similar to the situation that we used to have, with free states and slave states, where it really just depended upon your locale as to what your legal status was. As an African-American couple, we are as upset about the Proposition 8 being upheld, as being people of color, as we are about being lesbians, because the dangerous, dangerous legal precedent has been set. I think it makes all minority population extremely, extremely vulnerable to having their constitutional rights taken away from them by the majority.
LUDDEN: If you're just joining us, you are listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with California residents, Deborah Johnson and Van Vugner, they're both in gay relationships and we're talking about yesterday's ruling to uphold a ban on gay marriage in California means in their lives.
Van you said that you think in the longer run, eventually this gay marriage will be made legal and it be almost better this way you have to go the hard route. What do you mean?
Mr. VUGNER: Well, you know, I think after the election in last year, there were many people that approached me that said they were disappointed by the results of the election that proposition 8 passed. I think there is some regret now in the minds of many many people, may be that they didn't fight harder on that. I think a lot of people assumed as atrocious as that couldn't possibly pass. And it's - we got another chance at it in 2010, it seems clear to me that proposition to overturn Proposition 8 could pass.
LUDDEN: Deborah, you as a reverend, marry people all the time…
Rev. JOHNSON: Yes.
LUDDEN: I mean how is that irony in that? I mean how does that play out as this issue has played out?
Rev. JOHNSON: It's been painful. In those instances when I am really aware of the fact that I am performing a ceremony that I wouldn't have been able to have, I would get flashbacks of African-American entertainers that used to sing on the stages of concerts that they would never be allowed to go into. The most painful times that I find it, though, is when I'm doing my prison outreach work. And I'll go into the prison and particularly when I'm talking to the lifers that we do a lot of work with. And they'll show me these photos of their fiancées, of their new brides that they have just married.
And I have to admit, it does get under my skin a little bit to think, wow, here's somebody who is never going to able to live without their partner, they're never going to be able to share their life together, they're never going to be able to even so much as consummate that relationship. And yet, here they have the right to get married and I've been with my partner for 12 years and, you know, I wasn't going to have that same right.
LUDDEN: Van, how would it have changed your life if the ruling had gone the other way and marriage was sanctioned?
Mr. VUGNER: If Philip and I could be married, there are a number of things that would have been simpler for us. We adopted a couple of children eight years ago. They are raised now and not living at home because they were 12 and 13 years old at that time. But there were many instances where we had to carry a lot of court paperwork with us, just to be sure to be able to deal with hospital situations for them - if they were to get hurt. For example, one of our sons once had a short stint in Juvenile Hall. And when Philip went there, he was listed as father so he got into visit but I had to wait outside because they didn't have me in their computer and they wouldn't accept that I was related in some way.
LUDDEN: I know the two of you are sitting there together in the studio, have either of you had conversations about this? Deborah, have you had conversations with people who now aren't married and can't get married? And Van, have you talked with friends who maybe are married about the way things are now.
Rev. JOHNSON: Oh Yes, definitely, I'd say that it probably is two different categories. There are individuals that are already in committed relationships that had been anticipating the ability to be married. But I think the ones that are equally devastated are the people who do not know who it is that they might marry and a sense of a dream being taken away from them. You can imagine a young person who suddenly were to feel as though I'll never be able to get married. At least I thought for a little while that I could, and this daunting sense of a second class citizenship forever hanging over them.
LUDDEN: Van, what about you? Have you talked with friends who are married and is there a tension now between those relationships?
Mr. VUGNER: A lot of our straight friends are very sad that we can't get married and the gay ones that are married, I'd say they are disappointed as well. One of the things that always strikes me whenever I go to a wedding, is a lot of things about a wedding are not just for the couple getting married but for the community that surrounds them - their friends and family and the way I felt going to a friend's wedding. I would love to put on a wedding for my friends. But I want to do it in such a way that it can be planned and everyone can make it, make travel plans and so forth.
That's why we didn't do it during that few months window where we could have done it. We didn't want to rush it. We wanted to have, we want to do it right so we took the risk of waiting until after the election and now we will be waiting longer.
LUDDEN: California residents Van Vugner and Reverend Deborah Johnson, thanks so much for joining us and telling your stories.
Rev. JOHNSON: Thank you.
Mr. VUGNER: Thank you Jennifer.
LUDDEN: Remember with TELL ME MORE the conversation never ends. Are you a part of the same sex couple in California? Did you have plans to marry? What's your reaction to the court's decision to uphold Proposition 8? To tell us more call our comments line at 202-842-3522. Remember to tell us your name or you can always go to our Web site, the TELL ME MORE page at npr.org and blog it out.
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