Pro-Same Sex Marriage Rallies Held in Atlanta (UPDATE 1)

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With additional reporting by Matthew Cardinale

(APN) ATLANTA — About 700 Atlantans gathered for a candlelight vigil in Atlanta’s Midtown on Saturday, November 15, 2008, to express their support for same-sex marriage and their displeasure with the recent passage of Proposition 8 by a majority of voters in California.

The candlelight vigil was unusual for its blasting of loud club music on speakers while participants held candles. Outwrite Bookstore and Nikimoto’s and Zocalo restaurants allowed their parking lots to be used, while the City of Atlanta granted a permit for sidewalk use during a three hour period.

“Love is Equal,” “No More Mr. Nice Gay,” and “No H8,” were three slogans announced by protest signs people were holding.

Earlier in the day, a rally was also held at the Georgia State Capitol.

Sean Sobottka, 26, and Phillip Crump were two organizers who decided to take action in the days after the election. The impressive turnout was in part fueled by “people sending out emails, E-vites, and Facebook,” Sobottka, an Emory law student, told Atlanta Progressive News.

“It was a slap in the face. After the incredible high of the first Black President elected to the White House, to have Proposition 8 pass… hatred, ignorance, and bigotry undercut,” the victory, he said.

“The [California] Supreme Court said you cannot legislate hate. Then to go back, rip that away from us, there’s even more injustice in that, than saying you can’t marry in the first place,” he said.

The events were organized as part of a nationwide effort to hold demonstrations in US cities, put together by a group called Join the Impact. Join the Impact announced a protest at City Hall East without being aware that Sobottka and Crump had already been planning an event downtown.

A revised announcement regarding the change in venue was sent out last week.

At least at the vigil, there did not appear to be many of the Atlanta activists who frequently attend demonstrations for myriad other progressive issues, while there were many homosexual activists present. This suggested a single-issue focus and a disconnect with other community efforts.

Proposition 8, if allowed to stand, would amend the California State Constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

This would essentially nullify a May 15, 2008, California Supreme Court ruling which stated the equal protection clause of the state constitution provides a right to same sex marriage. So far, at least 18,000 same sex couples have wed.

One such couple here in Atlanta is Larry Corse, 68, and David Marshall, 53, who live in Midtown. Corse, who came out as homosexual late in life and has a son from a previous relationship, met Marshall in 1995.

“David never thought he’d be married and have children. He picked up a step-son,” Corse told Atlanta Progressive News. “Of course, he’s a 43 year-old boy.”

Corse and Marshall decided to go to San Francisco, California, to get married in late October 2008. There were only two witnesses at the wedding and one was a stranger they had met on the street.

When asked why they wanted to get married when they already knew they had a committed relationship, “It’s just a commitment,” Marshall said. “It’s a way of making a statement,” Corse said.

“You recognize heterosexual marriages from any state in the union and any country in the world, no questions asked,” Corse said.

“It’s a perfectly legal marriage,” Corse said, noting marriage was legal in California at the time they wed.

Corse would want Californians who supported the measure to know that “love is what this is all about. This is the new Civil Rights Movement.”

Meanwhile, three legal challenges and promising words from the Governor and State legislators could mean a reversal on Prop 8.

The “Yes on Prop 8″ campaign received a large backing individual Mormon donors, who, depending on various estimates, provided anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of the total funding for the campaign, according to The San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.

Three legal groups, American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), filed a writ petition in the state Supreme Court before the November 04 elections arguing such a measure should not appear on the ballot.

“If the voters approved an initiative that took the right to free speech away from women, but not from men, everyone would agree that such a measure conflicts with the basic ideals of equality enshrined in our constitution,” Jenny Pizer, a Staff Attorney with Lambda Legal, said.

Nevertheless, the proposal remained on the ballot and 52 percent of California voters approved it. Opponents moved quickly.

The next day, the ACLU, Lambda Legal, and the NCLR filed a lawsuit in the state Supreme Court on behalf of Equality California, a group that works to secure civil rights for homosexual, bisexual, and transgender Californians, and six same-sex couples who have not yet wed but would like to.

The lawsuit argues Prop 8 is invalid because the initiative seeks to eliminate a fundamental right from one group while the State Constitution provides equal protection for all groups.

The complaint argues Prop 8 is more of a revision of the State Constitution rather than an amendment, a move that should first be considered in the state legislature.

“A major purpose of the constitution is to protect minorities from majorities,” Elizabeth Gill, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, said. “Because changing that principle is a fundamental change to the organizing principles of the constitution itself, only the legislature can initiate such revisions to the constitution.”:

Two other similar lawsuits have been filed, one on behalf of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Santa Clara County and the other on behalf of a married female couple in Los Angeles.

The Sacramento-based Campaign for California Families, a group that supports Prop 8, asked the state Supreme Court Nov. 10 to become a party to all three lawsuits. The group said it wants to participate because it is important to protect voters’ rights to amend the constitution through such initiatives.

Defendants in all three lawsuits include California Attorney General Jerry Brown and Registrar of Vital Statistics Mark Horton.

Brown said marriages that have already happened will be honored but ordered county clerk offices throughout the state to not issue any more marriage licenses to same sex couples, according to the Contra Costa Times.

Brown is prepared to defend Prop 8 and will file a brief shortly, according to The San Jose Mercury News. But other state officials have signaled that Prop 8 may not last.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said on CNN November 9 that the state Supreme Court might indeed overturn the initiative.

“It’s unfortunate, obviously, but it’s not the end,” Schwarzenegger told CNN. “I think that we will again maybe undo [Prop 8], if the court is willing to do that, and then move forward from there and again lead in that area.”

The governor, like plaintiffs in the lawsuits and Attorney General Brown, said California must continue to honor the marriages of 18,000 couples who have already wed.

The California Supreme Court has struck down a voter initiative in the past. In 1990, the court stuck down an initiative that would have added a provision to the State Constitution stating the “Constitution shall not be construed by the courts to afford greater rights to criminal defendants than those afforded by the Constitution of the United States.”

The court invalidated the measure because it wrongly attempted to strip California’s courts of their role as independent interpreters of the State’s Constitution.

Activists noted the measure in 2000 passed by a wide margin, while this year’s proposition passed narrowly, indicating a change in voter attitudes and the culture in California.

On November 10, 44 members of the California Legislature filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of one of the three lawsuits.

The Anti-Defamation League and the Bar Association of San Francisco each submitted letters supporting statewide efforts to get the courts to delay implementation of Prop 8 so couples can continue to wed while the issue is being resolved.

Reports of demonstrations in front of Mormon temples and Catholic and Evangelical churches last weekend were widespread. An estimated 10,000 protestors demonstrated in front of San Diego’s Saddleback Church on November 9.

Cathy Renna, a managing partner at Renna Communications, a New York-based firm that helps develop communications strategies for groups focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues, told APN that activists should work to win over ordinary Americans on an emotional level.

“The frame of the story became a battle of the ads, who’s raising more money,” she said of the Prop 8 debate. “The people who are affected are lost in that.”

“You have to give them a less abstract example,” she added. “You have to tug at the emotional component… The part that was missing [in the debate] is the story-telling piece.”

Renna believes no matter what happens with Prop 8, the same sex marriage issue will ultimately wind up before the nation’s highest court.

“You’re going to have this patchwork of plans for a number of years and then the Supreme Court [of the US] will take it up at a federal level,” she said.

But even if same-sex marriage becomes legal tomorrow, Renna said it is important for activists to continue to work to make it acceptable.

“There needs to be that public education piece for decades to come,” Renna said. “The law changes [but that] doesn’t mean people overnight are going to be happy with same sex marriage.”

UPDATE AND CORRECTION: Previously, this article reported the Mormon church donated from 40-70% of Prop 8 funding, according to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. This has been corrected to note that the estimated donations came from individuals, not from the church itself. Since the article ran, the Chronicle has reported the California Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating the donations.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable is matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com. Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable is jonathan@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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Our syndicaton policy was updated June 2007. For more information on how to syndicate Atlanta Progressive News content, please visit: http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/extras/syndicate.html

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