A look back

Oh, hello, blog! I pretty much let this blog languish for most of the year, but I couldn’t let 2013 go by without at least briefly highlighting a milestone in my life: getting married. As you may know, for the last several years Thom and I have been advocating for marriage equality as volunteers for Marriage Equality USA. We were at as many rallies and protests and parades as we could attend, speaking out for equal marriage rights for all.

On June 26 of this year, the movement for marriage equality reached a turning point as the Supreme Court dismissed the Proposition 8 case and overturned a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which meant two things to us personally: Thom and I could get married in our home state of California, and our marriage would be recognized by the federal government. We thought the ruling wouldn’t issue for about another month, but the circuit court surprised us all by lifting its stay just a few days later, on June 28. Thom and I rushed to San Francisco City Hall to get our marriage license, and there we just happened to also witness the wedding of Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, two of the plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case. More history in the making!

On September 26, the anniversary of our “Happy Together”-themed commitment ceremony at the Cliff House four years ago, we got married at City Hall (and called it “Happy Together 2.0″).

Just married! (Photo: Pax Gethen / Funcrunch Photo; full album here.)

Just married! (Photo: Pax Gethen / Funcrunch Photo; full album here.)

And that weekend, we went back to the Cliff House and had a dapper party! (Photos by Levi Smith.)

Thank you to all our family and friends for your love and support. My husband (!) and I appreciate it so much. This has been an amazing year for us personally and for the advancement of civil rights in America. At the beginning of 2013, nine states and the District of Columbia had marriage equality. Since then, nine more states. Look out, 2014!

Motions to marry: Prop 8’s last stand at the Ninth Circuit

On Thursday the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco heard the final hearings of this stage of the Prop 8 case, a motion to release video of the original District Court trial and another motion to vacate that court’s decision because Judge Vaughn Walker was gay and in a long-term relationship.

Just before the hearings there was a rally outside the courthouse, where Thom and I spoke along with several other marriage equality advocates we’ve come to know over the last few years.

Here’s a loose recollection of what I said (based on my talking points I had scribbled on Post-It notes):

Hello, my name is Jeff Tabaco, and this is my partner, Thom Watson. We have been together for over eight years. We became domestic partners in 2009 and had a commitment ceremony later that year. What I want more than anything in the world is to marry this man.

But I can’t. Not here in San Francisco, in the city I was born. Not in my own home state of California. I am a proud Californian, a proud American. But I will be a prouder Californian, a prouder American — a more equal American — when the judgment striking down Prop 8 is upheld, when our rights are restored, and when I can marry the person I love.

Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” That’s what we’re fighting for, what everyone — gay, straight, and in between — should be fighting for: dignity and equal rights for all.

We are on the side of love. We are on the side of the law. And we are on the right side of history.

I’m happy to see a lot of familiar faces here today, and the joke is that we have to stop meeting like this. We’ll come to as many rallies and hearings as we have to to get our rights back. I know the next time we gather like this, it will be to celebrate a ruling upholding marriage equality for all.

Any day now the Ninth Circuit could rule on any or all of the issues before it (standing of the Proponents, these motions to release the video and to vacate the decision, and the underlying constitutional merits), but the word seems to be it could be as soon as later this month or early next year. The commentaries I’ve read also suggest that the court will deny the motion to vacate, but may find it difficult to grant the motion to release the trial video. We shall wait and see.

See also:

  • The photo above is by our friend, wedding photographer, and continuing documentarian of the marriage equality cause, Julie Bernstein. For more, see her “Motions to Marry” rally photos.
  • Videos of the Ninth Circuit hearings have been published: Hearing 1 (motion to release trial video) and Hearing 2 (motion to vacate).

Rally on Prop 8 standing

A couple of weeks ago we took part in a rally and attended a court hearing about the latest detour in the Prop 8 saga: whether the proponents’ have standing to appeal the case when the official state defendants (the governor and the attorney general) refuse to do so. My opinion is that they do not, but in any case the outcome of this particular hearing at the California Supreme Court (due in under ninety days now) is only meant to advise the Ninth Circuit as it ponders whether the proponents have federal standing.

Anyway, we watch and wait. But I did want to share some of the sights and sounds from the rally that morning, courtesy of our good friends.

Check out Julie Bernstein’s site for her full set of rally photos.

Here is a video by Sean Chapin, showing the contrast between the anti– and pro-equality sides:

You really see what our side stands for: love.

Prop 8 hearing: Gay judge’s ruling on same-sex marriage is upheld

Yesterday morning Thom and I went to a San Francisco federal courthouse to watch a hearing held to decide on a couple of motions brought up by the Prop 8 proponents: to vacate Judge Walker’s judgment overturning Prop 8 because he is gay and in a same-sex relationship (the argument being that he could have benefited from the case’s outcome), and to compel return of the trial recordings. The good news is that today both of these motions, as we expected, were denied.

From Judge Ware’s ruling on the motion to vacate (Section 455 of the U.S. Code [28 U.S.C. §455] addresses disqualification of federal judges):

The Court finds that neither recusal nor disqualification was required based on the asserted grounds. The sole fact that a federal judge shares the same circumstances or personal characteristics with other members of the general public, and that the judge could be affected by the outcome of a proceeding in the same way that other members of the general public would be affected, is not a basis for either recusal or disqualification under Section 455(b)(4). Further, under Section 455(a), it is not reasonable to presume that a judge is incapable of making an impartial decision about the constitutionality of a law, solely because, as a citizen, the judge could be affected by the proceedings. Accordingly, the Motion to Vacate Judgment on the sole ground of Judge Walker’s same-sex relationship is DENIED.

It’s a good read (full PDF here). Justice — not prejudice — prevails. Thank you, Judge Ware, for putting the smackdown on this absurd, frivolous motion by the Prop 8 proponents, who should be ashamed and embarrassed.

Bright and early before the hearing, outside the courthouse Thom and I participated in a rally organized by Marriage Equality USA to show our support for the cause. Among the speakers was Thom, who told our story as domestic partners who are waiting for and fighting for the right to marry.

Thom speaks at rally

Speaking with reporter Scott Shafer of KQED:

Speaking to reporter

These photos are by Julie Bernstein, and you can find her entire set of photos covering the rally here. And check out Sean Chapin’s video montage:

Thanks to all who showed up and to everyone for their support. We’ll keep showing up and fighting as long as we have to!

Tax time: new federal rules for domestic partners

Thom and I filed our taxes earlier this week, and a new twist is that the IRS now wants couples like us — registered domestic partners (RDPs) in community-property states — to split their income on their federal returns. This affects Washington, Nevada, and California. From Publication 555 (Rev. December 2010):

For 2010, a RDP in Nevada, Washington, or California (or a person in California who is married to a person of the same sex) generally must follow state community property laws and report half the combined community income of the individual and his or her RDP (or California same-sex spouse).

It’s great (and just) that the IRS recognizes state community-property rights (i.e., as with married couples, any earned income and deductions are considered to be held jointly), but by virtue of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriage, gay couples still have to file as single persons. That means unlike federally recognized married couples, we can’t file one joint federal return. (Well, in any case we’re not married in California by virtue of Prop 8, but that’s a whole ‘nother issue.) No, that would be too easy. We still have to file separate returns while evenly splitting our income and other community property, and taking into account any separate property (like inheritance, assets gained before the partnership, associated interest, etc.).

So we filed by mail and included a cover letter explaining our situation, just in case some IRS agents aren’t up to speed with the new rules, and a worksheet showing the allocation of our community vs. separate property. The bottom line is, due to our particular circumstances, we have a lower tax liability this year compared to last year under the completely single-person tax treatment, but it would be nice if we could file one federal return and not have to do the extra accounting.

California gives RDPs basically the same rights as married spouses, and for the last two years we’ve filed our state tax returns jointly (and electronically). Easy peasy. For this — not just convenience but more importantly, equality — and a whole lot of other reasons, DOMA has got to go.

» See also: Lambda Legal FAQ (PDF); New York Times Bucks blog entry, “Tax Season Gets Trickier for Some Gay Couples”.

Prop 8 rally and appeal

Last week Thom and I spoke to a crowd of fellow marriage-equality supporters at a gathering before the federal Prop 8 appeal in San Francisco. As you may recall, Prop 8, which took away the right to same-sex marriage in California, was overturned but that decision was appealed by the ban’s proponents. Last Monday the burden was theirs to show that they had standing to bring the appeal and to argue the constitutionality of Prop 8.

The rally beforehand drew a large, energetic crowd outside the courthouse, and I thank our friends at Marriage Equality USA, especially Molly McKay, Stuart Gaffney, and John Lewis for reaching out to us and helping us become “love warriors” in the fight for equal rights. Here are the remarks we made that morning:

THOM: Good morning. I’m Thom Watson. I grew up in the 60s and 70s in a rural conservative Virginia town. As a child I dreamed of marrying and having a family. But as a gay man I was told that this would never happen, that I was not entitled to that dream.

When I was 17, the D.A.R. named me their statewide “Good Citizen” awardee. But as a gay man I was told that I was not a good citizen of Virginia, not an equal citizen, and never would be.

Jeff and I met in 2003. After sharing a life and home for three years, to the state of Virginia we were still legally strangers. In my childhood Virginia had gone to the Supreme Court to try to keep interracial marriage illegal. In 2006 it was about to pass one of the most restrictive anti-gay amendments, banning marriage as well as any other legal recognition of our relationships and calling into question even wills and powers of attorney. The writing on the wall was clear, so we moved here, to Jeff’s home state.

We came here in large part because California was the promised land where we were to find the equality others take for granted. I took a job with the state, and swore to defend the state constitution. But Prop 8 amended that constitution to take my rights away and make me a second-class citizen here. After its passage, I felt the same way I imagine gay and lesbian soldiers might, as they fight to safeguard a nation from whose guarantees of equal protection they are unconstitutionally excluded by Prop 8, DOMA, and ENDA.

I still have that childhood dream of marrying the one I love. He’s standing right here beside me. And now I believe that dream can come true, as Prop 8 finally falls for good.

JEFF: Good morning! My name is Jeff Tabaco, and I am proud to be here with my partner Thom and with all of you to restore equal marriage rights in California. If you had told me ten or twenty years ago that the tide would soon turn to recognize marriage rights for LGBT people, and that I could play some small part in it, I probably wouldn’t have dared to dream it. But to touch on a related theme in the LGBT community that hopefully we have all heard by now and we continue to spread: it gets better. It gets better because — you, me, our families, our friends, our allies — we all make it better.

As the son of immigrants, I grew up very aware of the search for a better life. My parents left the Philippines knowing there would be difficult changes ahead, but that their lives could change for the better. My mother’s favorite saying is, “As I breathe, I hope.” So as long as we are here, we keep fighting. We keep living our lives. And for my life, for our lives, the fight for equal rights is crucial to realizing the full potential of our true selves, openly and honestly.

I am a proud Californian. But I will be more proud of this great state when I can marry the person I love, when once again all are treated equally under the law, and when the shame and discrimination of Prop 8 are finally put to rest! Thank you!

We were just two of many speakers that morning — including Jesse Jackson via cell phone — all of whom had a very personal connection to civil rights. After the rally we went into the courthouse to watch the two-hour hearing, which was broadcast to an overflow courtroom. It was exciting to watch, and I remain optimistic that Judge Walker’s original ruling reinstating equal marriage rights will be upheld. But for now we wait. Again.

Note: Many thanks go to Julie Bernstein for her continuous support and her photographic skills. The photos above are by her; check out her photo gallery of the rally.

‘United We Love’

Last week our friend (and fellow marriage-equality advocate) Sean Chapin asked Thom and me if we would like to be featured in a music video he was making for a new version of his original song “United We Love.” We gladly said yes, and met up with him yesterday morning at Crissy Field in San Francisco to do the filming.

We walked around looking for good vantage points with the Golden Gate Bridge and finally came to Fort Point, which turned out to be a perfect spot. There were few people around and the fog was still hanging along the bridge, so it helped the dreamy mood that Sean was going for. We ran through a few takes and it was a lot of fun. Thom and I improvised our “conversation” — which you don’t hear of course — and it kept changing and getting more silly and absurd with each take. The final video uses our last take, and so we’re laughing so much.

Many thanks go to Sean for having created such a lovely song with its message of love and unity and for thinking of us to be a part of this video:

Last year in advance of our commitment ceremony, Thom and I mutually proposed to each other over Valentine’s Day dinner in Carmel. But now if people ask how we proposed, I think I’m going to whip out this video and say it happened like this. Haha. (Aside: How perfect is that pigeon that comes flying through the shot? I think it wants screen credit now.)

After the shoot as we walked back to the car, we saw Brian Wilson (San Francisco Giants closing pitcher, need I tell you) out for a run. Fear the beard! Sean, Thom, and I then wrapped up with brunch nearby at La Terrasse. A great day out in the City!

The Prop 8 wait

Same-sex marriage is in a holding pattern in California. Proposition 8, the gay-marriage ban, got overturned in federal district court (yay), but the judgment was temporarily stayed (boo). Then the stay was lifted (yay), but the effect of that was delayed a week (boo). Then the proponents appealed to the circuit court and were granted a stay (boo), but the court expedited the case to begin this December (yay). And then there’s also the mysterious cloud hanging over all of this: whether the proponents even have standing to appeal. Whew!

The entire Prop 8 trajectory has been a roller coaster of events, and August 12 was an emotional roller coaster of a day. We went to San Francisco City Hall in the morning to await word on the stay and see if we could get married. Our good friend Julie Bernstein, who had also been our wedding photographer last year, surprised us by meeting us at City Hall to offer emotional support and document what we hoped would be our legal-wedding day. To finish the job, as it were.

After waiting for a few hours in line with other gay and lesbian couples at the county clerk’s office, we were overjoyed to find out the stay was lifted, but then just minutes later disappointed to hear of the delay. Same sex-marriage may be on hold for now, but given the current momentum, we are optimistic for marriage equality and know that we will get there eventually. Julie created a lovely photo essay of that day last week; please take a look: “A Second Chance for Their Wedding Day.”

Thanks to our friends and family for their support and encouragement! And on a grander scale, thanks to the plaintiffs and their legal team for their efforts, and to Judge Vaughn Walker for his legal reasoning. The overturning of Prop 8 is a win for the Constitution and for civil rights.

» See also Thom’s blog entry “‘Not Getting Married Today.’”