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.