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Same-sex couples take part in national protest

They are rebuffed when they seek marriage licenses at counters in 48 states.

February 13, 2009|Associated Press

Same-sex couples seeking to wed showed up at marriage license counters across the nation Thursday to highlight a right they don't have in 48 states.

In San Francisco, where same-sex marriage was legal for nearly five months last year before California voters approved a gay marriage ban, many of the couples who went to City Hall had already tied the knot and wanted both to express their gratitude and to show they're part of the fight.

"All of our marriages are under the cloud of Proposition 8," said Stuart Gaffney, 45, of San Francisco, who joined his husband and other couples in presenting long-stemmed roses and wedding stories to the sympathetic county clerk. "Equality is an unfinished business in California."

Activists in Manhattan wore signs that said "Just Not Married," and in Las Vegas, couples gathered outside the downtown marriage bureau with signs that read "Don't hate my love." As expected, they were refused licenses.

"We could get married in Massachusetts or Connecticut, but we'll wait a little and see what happens in New York," Matt Flanders, 37, of Brooklyn, said after he and his partner, Will Jennings, 29, were rebuffed. "It's a matter of principle. This is our home, and we should be able to get married where we live, where our friends are."

The Valentine's week protests, part of the 12th annual Freedom to Marry Day, were considered especially important as a rallying point this year because they follow the November vote that overturned gay marriage in California. The passage of Proposition 8 has prompted protests, lawsuits and questions about the direction of the gay rights movement.

"A lot of people feel a sense of determination and regret over having been too complacent or quiet before, so there is a commitment to, 'Never again, we have to take action,' " said Evan Wolfson, a civil rights lawyer who conceived of Freedom to Marry Day and directs the New York-based Freedom to Marry gay rights group.

Gay marriage is legal only in Massachusetts and Connecticut; 30 states have constitutional bans against it. Gay rights activists are pressing lawmakers in New Jersey, New York and Vermont to take up bills that would legalize gay marriage in those states.

Jennifer Pizer, director of the marriage project at Lambda Legal, a national gay law organization, said the outcome of the California election had created momentum in other parts of the country.

Lawmakers in Hawaii and Washington, for example, are considering bills that would grant same-sex couples the legal rights of marriage under civil unions.

In Maine and Minnesota, dozens of proponents of gay marriage gathered outside the statehouses Thursday to lobby for bills that would legalize same-sex marriage.

State Sen. Scott Dibble, a Minneapolis Democrat who is one of the few openly gay members of the Legislature, said the country's economic woes show the need for couples to support each other.

"Those with strong families . . . are going to be able to rely on each other," he said. "So why does our own government try to stop that from happening? Why does our own government try to stop us from trying to take care of each other?"

Troy Smith, 41, and his partner of six years, Justin Gibson, 26, were among the 15 couples waiting with many tourists outside the marriage bureau in Las Vegas. Smith, a coordinator at a local wedding chapel, said he is constantly faced with the reality of Nevada's constitutional ban on gay marriage.

"I sell it every day, but I can't buy it myself," he said, adding that he often sees others take marriage lightly, sometimes rushing to the altar after knowing each other only hours. "It just about breaks my heart. It's not fair."

The California Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments next month on whether to uphold Proposition 8 and on the validity of the estimated 18,000 same-sex marriages sanctioned in the state between June and November. The court could render a decision as early as June.

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