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California's gay marriage rulings leave couple perplexed

They're still married, but with Prop. 8 upheld, a Hollywood Hills couple are not feeling very welcome in their own state and wonder how so many people can still so badly misunderstand them.

May 27, 2009|STEVE LOPEZ

They woke up in the Hollywood Hills not knowing whether they'd still be married when the sun plunged into the Pacific. Stuart went to work; Jamie had a doctor's appointment.

Their status was in the hands of the state Supreme Court.

They were a little jittery, naturally, but weary too. For all the progress they've seen during 25 years together, here was yet another public referendum not just on gay marriage but really on whether it's OK to be gay. And it was hard for them to believe this was happening in California after five other states had legalized gay marriage, treating it as a civil rights issue.

Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, Iowa.


Stuart Zwagil, an exec with a documentary and entertainment company, was the more optimistic of the two, wanting to believe the supremes would overturn Prop. 8's ban on gay marriage. Jamie Offenbach, a Juilliard-trained opera singer, had his doubts. They both hoped that whatever happened to Prop. 8, their marriage last June would stand, as would those of 18,000 other gay and lesbian couples.

What they got, at 10 a.m., was a partial victory that felt more like a punch in the gut.

"It's bittersweet," Stuart said in his Studio City office as he and Jamie lamented the court's validation of Prop. 8. "If not for Hollywood, the warm weather and the sun, I'd leave."

I've known these guys for eight years, ever since my wife and I bought their house, and they're among our closest friends. I've heard the East Coast transplants say it's easier being gay in Los Angeles than anywhere else they've lived. But Prop. 8 won in L.A. County, Stuart said.

Did it?

He looked it up and Prop. 8 carried by a hair.

Real estate is much cheaper in Iowa, I said, but Stuart didn't appear ready to trade Hollywood for Hartwick or Hayesville.

"I love this state," Jamie said about moving, "but yeah, it's something I would consider."

They're both more inclined, though, to stay put and fight a little harder the next time gay marriage is put to the test. Eventually, Stuart predicted, enough states will be on board to force the federal government to support gay marriage.

"Filing our taxes this year was a nightmare," Stuart said, explaining that they filed as a married couple on their state returns but as two individuals who happen to share the same address on federal returns.

Jamie said that on his way to Stuart's office Tuesday, he heard a woman on the radio saying she supported the gay marriage ban, and she was adamant about raising her children with proper morals. Jamie said the woman was asked how gay unions affect her marriage or children, but she couldn't begin to explain the perceived threat posed by gays and lesbians.

"I think most of these people think it's a lifestyle choice," said Jamie.

"I will have conversations about being gay, and people will casually say, 'Well, you chose to be that way, and it's OK with me,' " Stuart said. "It's a constant quest to educate people."

"There's nobody at the forefront on this side," Jamie said. "Except for Ellen [DeGeneres] . . . there isn't anyone out there who's a symbol."

"Maybe you and I could do it," Stuart said.

"We're not celebrities," Jamie said.

"You're an opera singer."

"Come on, Stuart, this is serious."

Earlier, Jamie had put me in touch with two friends who wanted to talk about Tuesday's ruling. The first was an unmarried lesbian who made a good point: "If they put the Civil Rights Act to a [popular] vote in the 1960s, would it have passed? There's no way." How is gay rights not a civil rights issue, she asked, and how can people vote to deny a right to just one group?

The second friend was a former judge both in real life and on TV. Stuart's company produced "Family Court With Judge Penny," and Penny Brown Reynolds, who split her time between Georgia and California while the show was on the air, has taken some heat for speaking up in support of gay marriage.

Brown Reynolds is married, she's African American and happens to be an ordained Baptist minister. She knows all too well that along with Mormon and Catholic church leaders, many black clergy supported the gay marriage ban, as did the majority of black voters in California.

"What would Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. do or say if he were alive today?" asked Brown Reynolds, who told me she believes in liberation theology -- that religion ought to set people free rather than single out and oppress them. "People should be able to love who they want. How is this my business? How does this threaten the sanctity of my family, of my marriage?"

Jamie and Stuart were asking the same thing Tuesday, 25 years into a committed relationship. That's a span during which they've seen countless straight marriages dissolve and various nitwits speak out against gay unions, including Miss California, Carrie Prejean, whose parents, by the way, had a messy divorce.

"Who picked her as the new spokesperson of Christian morality when there were pictures all over the Internet of her flashing her boobies?" Jamie asked. "And she had a BOOB job!"

A boob job paid for, it has been reported, by pageant officials.

"She's how old, 21, and she's telling me how to live my life?" Jamie crowed. "Come on!"

Try though I might, there's not much I can add to that.


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