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California's gay marriage ruling signals next step for both sides

Both supporters and opponents of Proposition 8 waste no time in starting to gear up for the continued battle that both sides believe lies ahead. And both sides are equally determined.

May 27, 2009|Jessica Garrison and Hector Becerra

The next campaign in the gay-marriage fight has already begun.

Less than 90 minutes after the California Supreme Court released its ruling on Proposition 8, both sides had already e-mailed supporters soliciting funds anticipating a new ballot measure on gay marriage that could reach voters in 2010.

"We don't have time to mourn the failure of the state court to restore marriage equality to California," wrote Rick Jacobs, chairman of the Courage Campaign, in a 10:15 a.m. e-mail. He added that it was "time to go on offense" and asked supporters to send money for pro-gay-marriage advertising that could begin airing on television later this week.

Ron Prentice, chairman of ProtectMarriage.com, waited until a little after 11 a.m. to hit up his supporters, writing: "We must turn our attention to protecting this victory . . . and must raise several million dollars to get our message out. . . . Please click here to make a contribution."

In addition to buying advertising on TV, both sides are also hiring community organizers who will help supporters reach out to sway individual voters.

Among those prepared to keep fighting is Bill Welsh, senior pastor of Refuge Calvary Chapel in Huntington Beach. An ardent supporter of Proposition 8, Welsh spent hours on the street with a sign reading "Marriage is one man and one woman" and leading his congregation of 1,500 in gathering signatures to get the measure on the November ballot.

On Tuesday, he said he felt "pleased that they upheld the will of the people, especially in the increasingly lax moral climate that we're in." But he added that it would be "foolish to think this will be the end of the battle.

"I don't have any desire to get in a violent war with anyone over this, but we won't back down," he said.

On the other side, gay rights activists, who had widely expected to lose, indicated after the ruling that next time they intend to be far more inclusive in their quest to sway Californians. During the last election, the No on 8 campaign was sharply criticized for not reaching out enough to black and Latino voters.

Accordingly, gay activists summoned the media to the Lucy Florence Cultural Center in Leimert Park in the heart of Los Angeles' black community for a news conference chaired by Ron Buckmire, an African American mathematics professor who is also president of the Barbara Jordan/Bayard Rustin Coalition, a black gay rights group in Los Angeles.

Then they made sure that Southern California's first post-decision protest rally was held in East Los Angeles, in the region's historic center of Latino culture.

At that event, more than 100 people gathered outside the L.A. County office building on Cesar Chavez Avenue chanting slogans such as "Gay, Straight, Black, White, Marriage is a Civil Right." Three gay couples then occupied the marriage license office, saying they would not leave without a license to wed. County officials refused to give licenses out -- but also refused to take the demonstrators into custody. About 3:45, the demonstrators left.

In the evening, same-sex marriage supporters took over a swath of West Hollywood, spreading across Santa Monica and San Vicente boulevards. The general mood was disappointment, although many said they'd expected the court to rule as it did.

In San Francisco, meanwhile, police arrested more than 150 people after pro-gay-marriage demonstrators marched to Van Ness Avenue and Grove Street and sat down, blocking one of the city's main arteries. They were cited and released.

"It's about raising awareness and keeping the struggle going," said Aubra Fletcher, 33, of Berkeley, as she sat, smiling and waiting to be arrested.

Other rallies were planned for more than 100 California cities, including Eureka, San Diego and Palm Springs.

Across the state, gay marriage supporters emphasized the same message.

"Tonight, we take to the streets. But tomorrow, we must continue the hard work," said Lorri L. Jean, head of the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center.

But even as they pushed forward, many gay activists said they felt unexpected grief over the reality of a decision they had been expecting for months.

"I've just been told that I have less equal rights than my colleagues," said West Hollywood Councilman John Duran, who is gay.

His voice cracking with emotion, Duran added: "It felt as if somebody slugged me in the stomach."

Bill Walker, 52, and Kelly Ziegler, 41, "grabbed each other's hands when they said we were still married," said Walker, a television writer. "But it's a very compromised feeling because we have friends who can't get married now."

The couple had wanted to get married as soon as they could, mostly for the sake of their two children, Elizabeth, 8, and James, 3.

Around election time, Elizabeth began having nightmares that people were attacking her home with torches, Walker said. On Tuesday morning, the couple discussed how to tell her about the court's decision.

"We've told her nothing can tear us apart," Walker said.

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