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2004-02-18

Thousands Of Gay Couples Marry in San Francisco As Conservatives File Suit To Block Marriages

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Walter Robinson, editor of the Pulitzer Prize winning Boston Globe Spotlight team. He has been reporting with the Globe for nearly three decades. Read his "original article."

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In San Francisco, gay couples seeking marriage licenses flocked to City Hall for the fifth day after two conservative groups failed to block the marriages in two separate lawsuits in state court. [includes transcript]

In San Francisco, gay couples seeking marriage licenses flocked to City Hall for the fifth day after two conservative groups failed to block the marriages in two separate lawsuits in state court.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom last week ordered city officials to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in what is regarded as a unique act of civil disobedience. Officials changed the wording on marriage licenses to make them gender-neutral and since then have performed over 2,600 same-sex marriages.

The marriages licenses are being issued in defiance of state law. Newsom has argued that the equal protection clause of the California Constitution makes denying marriage licenses to gay couples illegal.

  • Kate Kendell, executive director of the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights.
  • Sarah Conner, last Thursday she and her partner Gillian Smith went to San Francisco City Hall and became the second same-gender couple in the U.S. to be granted a marriage license.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by Kate Kendall, executive director of the San Francisco based National Center for Lesbian Rights. She was the official witness at the first marriage at city hall of the lesbian couple who had been together for more than half the century. Welcome to Democracy now! Can you describe that marriage?

KATE KENDALL: Oh, gosh. Every time I think of it, I get emotional. It was a profound moment. Dell Martin and Phyllis Wyan are friends of mine in addition to mentors and icons for women, generally, based on the work they have done and certainly for lesbian and gay folks in this country. It was amazing to hear them be able to for the first time in almost 51 years be able to publicly declare their commitment to each other and have a government entity support and recognize that commitment. It truly was moving.

AMY GOODMAN: Kate Kendall, can you talk about what is happening? You have got more than 2600 marriages at this point, and they are continuing. You have got a number of court decisions now. Wasn’t a third issuing a decision last night?

KATE KENDALL: Yes. There have been a couple of different court actions brought by anti-gay organizations to stop the issuance of marriage licenses. Yesterday there was a key hearing on two of those organizations asking for a temporary restraining order, which the judge denied in the sense that he said that he was not going to stop the marriages that day, because the standard was not met. That is the organizations had to prove that someone was being harmed by the issuance of these marriage licenses. They simply could not demonstrate that in a way that met the legal standards. So, what the court has ordered is that the city — the formal language is that the city cease and desist issuing marriage licenses, OR the most important part of this sentence — or come back into court at a hearing state that’s now been scheduled for March 29, and explain to the court why they did not comply with the court’s order to stop, and at that point, the court will have a full hearing on whether there is sufficient grounds for issuing a preliminary injunction to stop the issuance of marriage licenses. Then this Friday, there is another hearing on the other action brought by the other organizations, I think the best bet would be that that court would do the same thing this court did yesterday in licenses would continue to be issued until there could be a full hearing on a preliminary injunction.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, last Thursday, Sara Connor and her partner, Jillian Smith went to San Francisco city hall and became the second same gender couple in the U.S. to be granted a marriage license. Sarah Connor joins us on the line as well. Welcome to Democracy Now!

SARAH CONNER: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe your wedding?

SARAH CONNER: It was a real whirlwind, but it was an incredible, amazing experience. I mean, I just cannot express the joy that was filling the room. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to let our family and friends know. But there was a roomful of people that we just met and I felt this outpouring of love and support.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you decide to get married?

SARAH CONNER: Well, we decided a long time ago we wanted to be married. That was the only word that we could think of that felt appropriate to describe the relationship that we wanted. This opportunity came up. A friend of mine called me the night before Thursday and said, you know, do you want to get married at city hall tomorrow. We had been planning on eloping to Toronto where we could be married there. But, you know, we could do it at home, and that was better. We thought, yeah, absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re married. The certificate that you have, this means that you are married in any state in this country?

SARAH CONNER: We are married in California right now. I don’t know about other states.

AMY GOODMAN: Well — let me ask Kate Kendall. People are flying in. Couples are flying in from all over the country to get married. Some are saying they’ll go back home to their own states, and file suits so that this marriage is recognized. Can you talk about the legality of this?

KATE KENDALL: Well it is our position that these couples have the same kind of marriage license any other couple would get from any other county clerk, if they choose to marry in a state in which they don’t live, and that the traditional course in this country, given that we are a United States, not 50 different countries, is that that marriage license would be recognized and respected. Our position is that the proper, legal and constitutional thing to do, to grant licenses, the equality and respect that any other license would be given. But we know that this continues to be a somewhat divisive issue for folks who are not sure exact whether they approve of this kind of equality and fairness for lesbian and gay couples. I truly do, watching what happened in the course of the last ten days, I do think that a wide swath of the public in this country has seen joyful, ecstatic lesbians and gay men lining up to get a marriage license and have the government confirm that their relationship is recognized and respected in the eyes of the law. I do think this is having a profound effect on the perception of the reality of lesbian and gay lives. That’s important for governmental and security protections for gay and lesbian relationships. I hope that the time of turbulence will be short and quickly, the issue will be settled, as the relationships will be afforded legal recognition.

AMY GOODMAN: The Georgia state senate approved a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages and defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. The Boston Globe is reporting legislature in New Hampshire is promoting a bill that would explicitly prohibit same-sex marriages performed in other states.

KATE KENDALL: I think some response to this is inevitable from folks. There have always been those in every civil rights struggle who have felt threatened by or have been hostile to full equality and embracing of difference and ensuring that everyone has equal protection under the laws in this very important constitutional democracy that we live in. I believe the march of progress is forward, and that in fact there will be a moment, hopefully soon, where this issue is settled and these relationships, and these couples many of them with children, have legal recognition by not only the state government but by the federal government as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, both for joining us. We have been talking to Kate Kendall, executive director of National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco and Sarah Connor, who married her partner, Jillian Smith, the second couple to get married at city hall in San Francisco last Thursday. This is Democracy now! Back in a minute.

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