Getting Things Straight
A day’s worth of drama– from protests to long-awaited wedding papers– help local gays find some peace.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
This isn’t what locals expect to see as they drive to lunch in downtown Monterey. A twentysomething jumps from the curb shouting, “Hey Wonderbread man! Honk for gay marriage!” Behind her, dozens of protesters hold up colorful slogans like “God didn’t create me to hate me” and “Love thy neighbor.”
This Monday morning protest is just the beginning of a heady 24-hour period in California history that will soon see same-sex couples seize their brand-new legal right to marry. For now, amid the raucous protest, drivers are understandably confused by the messages. On one corner, a protestor holds up a sign that reads: “Honk if you support love!” Nearby, another placard reads, “Honk if you love the military.”
The missing variable in this equation is Fred Phelps, whose Westboro Baptist Church is touring California in protest of gay marriage. Known for remarks describing events like Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 as God’s punishment for the country’s tolerance of homosexuality, the church’s website announces, “When you turn the country over to fags, your soldiers come home in body bags.” Their planned protest in Monterey sought to reiterate that view for local military.
As the day progresses, a Bud Light truck appears, its driver refusing the invitation to beep. Protestor and local musician Sarah McCoy calls out, “Fine! I drink Heineken anyway!” The truck driver then submits a reluctant whimper of a honk as he turns the corner.
NPS faculty member and former serviceman Jeff Weekley plans to document today’s protest to create a Public Service Announcement about hate speech and gay marriage. He discounts Phelps’ comments about deaths in Iraq as typical hate propaganda. “He targets soldiers and gays for the opportunity to promote his hate,” he says. “The families of soldiers in Iraq are vulnerable. Preying on the most vulnerable and marginalized people is easy.”
But Phelps and his cronies don’t make an appearance, leaving protestors with mixed emotions. “What a disappointment,” Weekley sighs, “but it’s great to see that we are supported by our community. It’s nice to see that.”
While Phelps was unwittingly bringing divergent communities together in Monterey, the county clerk in Salinas made quiet preparations to act upon the California Supreme Court’s decision that marriage is a fundamental right and that “an individual’s sexual orientation– like a person’s race or gender– does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold rights.”
Only the second state to grant marriage rights to gays, California does not require residency for a marriage license as does the first, Massachusetts. With New York recently announcing that it will accept gay marriages from outside jurisdictions, county clerks expect out-of-staters will travel to California to wed. “We’ve gotten a lot of calls from out of state,” says Angie Munoz, senior legal process clerk. “If we get busy, we’ve prepared. We’ve trained practically all our staff to type up licenses, so we’re ready.”
In fact, no avalanche of gay couples overtakes the County Clerk’s office Tuesday morning– and the couples are all locals. The first to wed, Adrianne Johnson and Sandy Hamm, stand beneath an oak outside the Clerk’s Office, quietly saying their vows. It is a solemn moment without much of the fanfare seen in San Francisco, but the import of this scene reverberates. Sandy Hamm feels it cannot be overstated. “This is a human rights issue,” she says. “Everyone should have the same benefits as everyone else. We pay taxes, contribute to the community, but some people don’t want to give us the same rights.”
Nearby, Jacqueline Lynch and Katherine Dorset of Prunedale, who also wed today, observe the ceremony with their 1-month-old daughter. Lynch notes that they have had a positive experience in Monterey County as a gay couple. “We’ve been welcomed by the community, especially with the baby,” she says. Dorset agrees wholeheartedly with her partner. “We’ve been very surprised by Monterey County,” she says. “Even when people raise eyebrows, they eventually come around.” The couple notes their family’s response to their partnership as a prime example: “The power of grandma is stronger than the power of hate.”
Despite the optimism imbuing these last 24 hours, the 12 local gay couples who received marriage licenses today face a speed bump on the road to happily ever after. On Nov. 4, voters will weigh in on an initiative that would amend the state constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
According to Weekley, whose PSAs will address the issue, Californians need to continue dialogue about marriage equality. “People will have the chance to choose not to write discrimination into the California constitution,” he says. “When they vote yes, they are standing with people like Fred Phelps.”