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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Commentary: Marriage Equality Comes to Yolo County

On February 14, 2008, I was at the County Clerk's Office once again covering County Clerk Freddie Oakley's protest against laws prohibiting the marriage of same-sex partners during her lunch hour. The day when Freddie Oakley would actually be able to marry such partners seemed hopelessly far off in the distance.

All of that has changed with a recent court ruling that has left open a window of time perhaps between now and Election Day when California same-sex partners can wed. Who knows what the Election Day will bring, perhaps the run on same-sex marriages during that time will convince people that the sky will not fall and that same-sex partners can hardly do more damage to the institution of marriage than has already been inflicted by high divorce rates and infidelity. Maybe.

Election Day must have seemed very far away yesterday for partners who have been waiting a lifetime to be legally and officially married. What it means to be legally and officially married will probably have to wait a few months or even years for the courts and the legislature to figure it out. But again, that likely was far from people's minds yesterday.

I have to say one of the worst images of the day was that of the protester who barged into someone's wedding.

The one plastered on television was Yuriy Popko:
"I came from the Soviet Union, and this is judicial tyranny – they're starting to regulate religion."
I am a very strong supporter of free speech, but whether you agree with gay marriage or not, shouldn't people have the right not to have you barge into their wedding, a day they will remember for the rest of their lives? Protest outside if you must. I find that a very disgraceful act that does not reflect well on that individual's faith.

Meanwhile controversy spread quickly across cyberspace in Davis as the revelations of an email from the owner of Ken's Bike and Ski Shop circulated and were posted on the Davis Wiki.

People were calling on the boycott of the bicycle shop. It was a letter to County Clerk Freddie Oakley.

The letter urges the County Clerk to
"uphold California law and maintain public order by NOT issuing any same-sex 'marriage' licenses unless and until the laws regarding marriage in California are altered. The separation of powers provision of the California Constitution clearly states that laws may only be changed by the legislature (with the governor) or the initiative process. The courts may rule on the constitutionality of existing laws, but may not circumvent the Constitution by writing new laws."
What the courts did of course was declare a law prohibiting same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Without such a law, local jurisdictions then have the right to determine their own policy.

He goes on to state:
"The applicable statutes (California Family Code, Sections 505, 300, 308.5, 301, etc) clearly state that marriage is between a man and a woman. County Clerks may not change the wording on these applications, and if in defiance of the law they do so, the California Department of Public Health must reject any such altered applications, as was properly done in 2004 by the Office of Vital Records."
He is correct that County Clerks may not change the wording--but the court has the authority to declare such laws unconstitutional by ruling that they violate the equal protection under the law. The courts have perfect authority to make such a ruling which in effect strikes this language from the law.

Then the key part of the letter:
"Any attempt to circumvent these laws, absent a change in the laws governing these forms and the process for their use, is dangerous and unconstitutional."
The courts of course have authority over what is and is not unconstitutional. In other words, the action is not unconstitutional unless the courts say so. By ruling the portions of the statute unconstitutional, they have negated those laws.

The owner of Ken's Bike and Ski Shop of course has every right to express his opinion on such a matter. On the other hand, the wisdom of such an act in a town such as Davis is questionable. He should have expected that his letter would get out into the community and would likely cause harm to his business.

Meanwhile I can respect the views of those who believe that same-sex marriages go against their religious teaching. I do not wish to impose my morality on others anymore than they would impose theirs on me. What I do not understand is how a religion based on the teachings of love and forgiveness becomes so hateful and intolerant when the issue of gay marriage comes up (as opposed to all of the, in my book, far greater evils of the world that often do not even register a complaint).

The fight in California this fall, I am afraid will be polarizing and ugly. I think that is unfortunate. It is unfortunate that an act that is supposed to bind love and understanding will instead foster hatred and polarization.

Will the ban on same-sex marriages pass in November? It is an interesting question. California for example has tried to pass a parental notification law for several years and has not been able to. It will be interesting to see if the resolve against Gay Marriage runs deeper than that against certain aspects of abortion law.

In the meantime, it is my sincere hope that those who were finally able to marry are able to find peace and fulfillment within their new relationship.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting