Alamedan Amy Gorman says that her 7-year-old daughter is excited about the prospect of her mother getting married.
"She mainly wants a party so she can be the flower girl," says Gorman, a stay-at-home mom whose partner of 16 years, Sue Miller, is a landscape architect.
Two weeks ago, on May 15, the California Supreme Court struck down California's ban on same-sex marriage. Explaining the 4-3 decision of the mostly-Republican-appointed court, Chief Justice Ronald M. George wrote, "In view of the substance and significance of the fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship, the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples."
"We are thrilled about this," said Gorman. "Even though we are married in our hearts, we would, of course, like to be legally married."
Many of you may remember Mildred Loving, who died last month at the age of 68. In 1958, when she was 17 and a few weeks married, police came into her Virginia home and arrested her and her husband. He was white and she was black and their marriage was illegal in Virginia as well as 15 other states (41 states have had such laws). The Lovings were convicted of violating Virginia's Racial Integrity Act and banished from visiting the state together for 25 years.
Today, any Alamedan can look at the Loving conviction and see it was unjust.
A 2007 Gallup poll found that 40 percent of Americans think same-sex marriages should be legal — up from 27 percent from 1996. I suspect that in 1958, support for same-sex unions would have hardly registered. Change is slow, but persistent.
Henry Villareal, a dean at the College of San Mateo who also serves on Alameda's Social Service Human Relations Board, met his partner, Mark White, a nurse, in 1994. They held a commitment ceremony in 1997 and, as registered domestic partners, get many but not all of the rights that come with marriage. In 2004, they moved to the Island after purchasing one of our city's most admired Victorian homes.
"We have found Alameda to be very comfortable, in part because we have such great neighbors who are very supportive of us as a gay couple," said Villareal. "Many of our closest friends here are married straight couples, and we regularly get together on our porch to share bottles of wine."
Debra Arbuckle is a long-time Alameda activist who, with girlfriend Sherry Stoll, founded Out on the Island in 1995.
"On the one hand, it doesn't make any difference what the law says," says Arbuckle, because she and her partner know they love each other. "But, on the other hand, there's all kind of monetary and health things that affect you, and the way federal laws are written, marriage is the key and so when they say that you can be domestic partners, it's not the same. 'Marriage' is tied to over 1,000 rights, so if you don't have that word you will never have full civil rights."
Change is slow, but coming — although the legal wrangling is far from over. While the California Supreme Court ruling will allow same-sex marriages starting June 16, those who oppose same-sex marriages have placed a constitutional amendment banning these unions on the state's November ballot. And, while gay marriage has been legal in Massachusetts since 2004, there remains the hurdle of recognition federally and by other states.
"It's all very uncertain," said Arbuckle.
"I would hope others would understand that as same-sex couples, if we were to marry, we would not take anything away from opposite-sex couples," said Villareal. "I would hope people would look into themselves and try to understand what is it that they're afraid of if same sex couples are allowed to marry."
Eve Pearlman also writes the Alameda Journal blog. Look for more news, impressions and discussion at www.ibabuzz.com/alamedajournal