Just thirty minutes after the verdict to uphold Proposition 8 was made in San Francisco, most of the crowd had left. One man held a sign reading "Gay=Pervert". Another younger man held another sign reading “Marriage Still=1 Man+1 Woman”, but the vast majority of people left in front of the courthouse were not people planning on getting married anytime soon: young gay rights activists.
"I'm overwhelmed and emotional", said Joseph Christopher Rocha after the verdict. Rocha is a young activist who spent 28 months in the Middle East serving the US Navy and Marines.
"I was certain I wouldn't make it back here, but thought I was fighting in order to ensure freedom. Then I make it back here and find that we limit freedom, we limit rights. I'm disappointed in my government."
The government Rocha refers to in this case was the California State Supreme Court. It ruled 6-1 on May 6 to uphold Prop 8's amendment to the state constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The 18,000 same-sex couples married before November 4th, however, will remain legal. Chief Justice Ronald George defended the ruling as constitutional. The "sole, albeit significant, exception," George said, is that "the designation of 'marriage' is ... now reserved for opposite-sex couples."
That difference in terminology might seem trivial to some, but to many people, it means everything.
"I just want to be able to have what other people can have. It’s almost like a stupid two-year-old feeling", says Sarah Freeman, a 21-year-old California native who identifies as lesbian. "My parents have been married a long time, so I think I view marriage as more of an important tradition than some people." Although Freeman wants to marry someday, she also feels that there are other important issues the gay community should be focusing on right now.
"There are a lot of other issues, like non-discrimination laws against transgender people and universal health care," Freeman said. "We should be focusing on getting universal healthcare or visitation rights for anyone you want. These benefits shouldn't only be tied to marriage."
This mindset reflects a trend on the most radical wings of the gay rights movement, known as Beyond Marriage. Beyond Marriage activists believe that all types of relationships should have the opportunity to receive benefits from the government. According to their mission statement, this could include “senior citizens living together” and people in “non-conjugal relationships”.
Regardless of whether the Beyond Marriage movement will ever gain popularity, the momentum for gay marriage in states other than California has been considerable.
This year, same-sex marriage has been legalized by the Supreme Courts of Iowa and Connecticut and the legislatures of Vermont and Maine. Massachusetts’s high court issued the first such ruling in 2003. Meanwhile, Prop. 8, is heading for federal court. Many gay-rights groups are nervous about this since they have tried to avoid bringing the issue before the conservative-led U.S. Supreme Court.
Despite the ruling in California and the battles that lie ahead, many proponents of gay marriage are optimistic.
“I’m not too stressed about gay marriage right now,” Freeman said. “I think it will happen; it’s just going to take a bit of time.”
Rocha is also hopeful, but places the responsibility for success on his generation. “Harvey Milk challenged his generation. I challenge mine to come out. We need to dispel this idea that homosexuals are perverts and junkies. We are a beautiful community of students, parents, and community organizers.”