An edited version of this piece appeared in the August 22, 2013 edition of the SF Bay Times.
As though wedding planning weren’t stressful enough on its own, California couples making or reviving plans to marry this summer and beyond have been faced with the additional anxiety of wondering whether the issuance of marriage licenses might be halted and weddings once again put indefinitely on hold.
After nearly five soul-crushing years of waiting on the part of gay and lesbian Californians, their families, friends, and allies, the determination by the U.S. Supreme Court that the Prop 8 proponents did not have standing to repeal the district court’s ruling overturning Prop 8 on federal constitutional grounds rightly was celebrated as a victory for marriage equality in California. It had been a long, painful, ugly fight. But the highest court in the land had weighed in. Game over, man.
Not so fast, responded those who had led the fight against civil equality. Despite defeat after defeat in court after court, including the U.S. Supreme Court and, increasingly, the court of public opinion, as recently as last week the Prop 8 proponents still continued their Hail Mary attempts to stifle joy and quash dreams even as their legal options to strip loving, committed same-sex couples of their freedom to marry all but evaporated.
After being rebuffed by the highest court in the land, the anti-equality forces, joined briefly by San Diego County Clerk Ernest J. Dronenburg, Jr., turned their sights back to the California Supreme Court. The Prop 8 proponents hoped they could convince the state’s highest court to set itself in opposition to a higher court’s ruling on a federal constitutional issue. The Prop 8 proponents were set to argue that the district court’s decision applied only to the two plaintiff couples – Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo – or, at most, only to couples living in Alameda or Los Angeles Counties.
Yes, even as the Prop 8 proponents recognized that they could no longer legally prevent all California same-sex couples from exercising their constitutional freedom to marry, and even as weddings joyously already were occurring all over California, they still were willing to try to stop any that they could.
But with the California Supreme Court’s refusal last month to halt marriages even temporarily, and then the unanimous decision of an en banc panel just last week to refuse to hear the Prop 8 proponents’ petition, the legal battle truly seems to be over. California same-sex couples can stop worrying about whether their marriage licenses will be revoked, and start worrying about the important stuff: Summer-weight linen or black tie? Chicken, beef, or fish? Will we ever figure out the #@$! seating arrangements? Would any jury convict us if we strangle anyone who shows up at the reception dinner after not having RSVPed?
It’s not just an abstract notion for me. Jeff and I have had our plans to marry put on hold time and again due to Prop 8.
In 2008, we had begun planning for a fall 2009 wedding. We hadn’t married during the brief window of opportunity that summer: We didn’t want to rush the planning, we weren’t sure if those marriages would be invalidated should Prop 8 pass, and, perhaps naively, we just didn’t expect Prop 8 to become law.
In 2009, instead of a legal marriage, we held a commitment ceremony, partly as a way to speak out against Prop 8, to proclaim that those who opposed our love had no power to diminish it. In lieu of a registry, we suggested to guests who inquired about gifts that they consider making a donation to a marriage equality organization in our name.
The following year we were one of the first couples standing on line at the San Francisco clerk’s office on August 12, 2010, waiting to hear that Judge Walker’s stay on his decision would be lifted and to get a marriage license immediately afterwards. Our hopes were buoyed when we heard that the stay would be lifted… and then dashed a few moments later when we learned that his decision would not take effect until the Ninth Circuit could review it, and marriages would not resume before the following week. On August 16, the Ninth Circuit weighed in and extended the stay indefinitely, again precluding our legal marriage.
On June 28 of this year, after the Supreme Court’s dismissal of the case for lack of standing to appeal, and the Ninth Circuit’s unexpectedly quick decision to lift its stay, we were back at City Hall. This time – after first joining the crowd on the Mayor’s Balcony to see Kris and Sandy be married by Attorney General Kamala Harris – we finally walked out of the clerk’s office with our own license in hand.
Some friends and fellow marriage equality advocates urged us to consider marrying immediately, and voiced concerns over the following weeks that the Prop 8 proponents might succeed in securing another stay on licenses being issued and marriages being recorded as they considered whether to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to rehear the case. We held steady, wanting to wait to hold our wedding when our family and friends could be witness to it, symbolically and sentimentally on the anniversary of our 2009 commitment ceremony, and when we could be sure that our marriage wouldn’t subsequently be challenged or overturned.
And that day now is rapidly approaching, even as we celebrate ten years together this year. We’ll be legally married at City Hall on September 26, and two days later will host our reception – a celebration not just for the two of us, but in a sense to honor all who are fighting for civil marriage equality in California and across the country. I’m no longer anxious or stressed about the sky falling on our legal marital status; instead, I just worry whether the San Francisco fog will lift for our big day.