For many same-sex couples married in California last year, Tuesday's state Supreme Court decision that their marriages are legal induced conflicting emotions and vows to lead by example in the intensifying battle for acceptance.
"The community is happy that 18,000 of us are married. We will lead an army of love warriors to fight for our rights," said Robin Tyler, 67, who moved to California from Canada decades ago expecting the state to be more progressive in its attitude toward gays.
Tyler and her wife, Diane Olson, insisted that their cultural isolation will be a uniting force in the gay rights movement that they expect to become more radicalized by the court's decision.
"We're out here with the people who can't get married. We're not divided at all. If anything, the Supreme Court has strengthened our resolve," Tyler said at an East Los Angeles protest.
Legal experts were divided and perplexed by the court ruling upholding Proposition 8 while affirming the validity of the marriages conducted in the six months before the November vote. But they agreed with the sentiment expressed by Tyler, that the legally married "island" provides a stage on which gays can show that same-sex marriage poses no threat to society.
"One role that the 18,000 couples will play, whether they want to play it or not, is exemplars of how the world won't come to an end," said UC Berkeley law professor Joan Hollinger.
Now that the state's legal issues have been addressed on Proposition 8, the proponents of equal marriage rights for gays can take up the issue at the federal level, where the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law can be addressed, Hollinger said.
Julie Nice, a University of San Francisco law professor specializing in constitutional and sexuality law, sees the emergence of the legally married gay class as yet another inconsistency in the nation's laws governing same-sex marriage.
"This kind of chaotic patchwork is not sustainable," Nice said of laws recognizing the right of gays to marry in five states, granting recognition to legal marriages conducted elsewhere in a few others and now California's validation of the pre-Proposition 8 marriages while denying the status to other gays.
Even those in the community of legally married gays point out that their marriages remain unequal in other senses.
"Our marriage doesn't mean the same as others because it is not recognized at the federal level, so it's a second-rate marriage," said Lorian Dunlop, 47, of Murrieta, who married her partner last June. "And the fact that you can't get married today makes our marriage feel somewhat less real, like it was grandfathered in."
She said her heart ached at the unfairness of denying the right to marry to those who hadn't met the right partner in time or weren't ready for marriage during the brief window when it was legal last year.
Several gay couples were in attendance as West Hollywood officials sought to chart a path forward in the fight for same-sex marriage rights after the high court's decision. Although Mark Katz, 58, and Robert Goodman, 48, continue to be recognized in the state as legally married, they deemed the ruling "tragic."
"This is as if we were freed slaves living in a slave state," said Goodman, a career counselor. "We were able to keep our marriage, but none of our brothers will be able to marry."
Times staff writers Maria L. LaGanga in San Francisco, David Kelly in Temecula and Corina Knoll contributed to this report.