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West Hollywood celebrates high court's rulings on gay marriage

The mood was jubilant across West Hollywood, where about 40% of the population is gay or lesbian, according to city surveys.

June 26, 2013|By Hailey Branson-Potts
  • Supporters of same-sex marriage gather in West Hollywood to celebrate the Supreme Court's long-awaited decision on Proposition 8.
Supporters of same-sex marriage gather in West Hollywood to celebrate… (Susannah Kay, Los Angeles…)

The crowd gathered early Wednesday at the Abbey, a well-known gay bar in West Hollywood. Couples sipped coffee and watched TV as they awaited word of the Supreme Court's decisions relating to same-sex marriage. There was a wedding cake and champagne under a giant, rainbow-colored flag over the patio.

No one was more apprehensive about what was soon to transpire than Colby Melvin and Brandon Brown. The pair, both models who have been engaged for four months, clutched each other as they watched the screen.

As the court's ruling striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act was announced, the 28-year-old Brown's hand trembled around Melvin's waist. Melvin, 25, held him in a long hug. When the high court next left standing a ruling overturning California's Proposition 8 — clearing the way for same-sex marriages to resume in the state — the pair kissed. Then they cheered and cut into the cake, popped open a bottle of champagne, shook it and sprayed it over those nearby.

Now, Melvin and Brown proclaimed, they can start planning their wedding.

The mood Wednesday across West Hollywood was jubilant. And why not? About 40% of the tiny city's population is gay or lesbian, according to city surveys. The symbolic rainbow-colored flag flies outside City Hall, where four of the five council members are gay men.

"Today is not about laws; it's not about marriage," Melvin said. "It's about love. We don't deserve to be treated any less than anyone else."

Many in West Hollywood had been nervous about the same-sex marriage ruling after the high court's decision a day earlier that struck down a key part on the Voting Rights Act.

"So many people have fought for this. The Voting Rights ruling caught me off guard. Today I'm so relieved," said Cory Lee, 23, a model who grew up in Austin, Texas.

A few steps away, Kate Sutherland, 27, and her girlfriend, India Allen, 27, stood with their arms around each other. They were visibly relieved by the Proposition 8 ruling. "Wow," Allen whispered. "I didn't think this would happen."

The couple — Sutherland is a West Hollywood resident and Allen is visiting from London — met at the Abbey. On Wednesday, they took a sip of the champagne, nibbled on a tiny bit of the wedding cake and ordered breakfast. Then they snapped souvenir photos with their cellphones so they would have keepsakes from the big day.

The Abbey opened early so people could gather to learn of the rulings live. Todd Barnes, its general manager, is a 49-year-old gay man who was married to a woman for six years and came out at 35. He said coming out to his wife was one of the most difficult things he's ever done.

"To know that as a gay man I can get married again — I'm happy," Barnes said. "When I find that person, maybe this time it will stick. It's about love now and nothing else."

A short distance away at City Hall, the air was also festive.

"We won on a technicality," Councilman John Duran acknowledged. "We'll take it. We'll have couples marrying again. We can get back in the business of marriage."

West Hollywood Mayor Abbe Land, who is straight, called the day "a wonderful day of true celebration." She said that in the summer of 2008, when hundreds of lesbian and gay couples married in West Hollywood, it was "one of our most joyous times as elected officials."

West Hollywood Mayor Pro-Tem John D'Amico, who married his husband, Keith Rand, on Aug. 1, 2008, was emotional, speaking slowly to the assembled crowd.

"Keith and I met 21 years ago and were married five years ago,'" he said. "Three hours ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that we belong in America like everyone else."

Heidi Shink, a member of the West Hollywood Human Services Commission, also married in the summer of 2008. She and her wife have been together for 18 years, she said.

Lisa Belsanti, a senior management analyst for the city, said she and Rebecca Belsanti were legally married on June 17, 2008, but celebrate their "illegal wedding" in 2000, shortly after the passage of the state's Proposition 22, which restricted marriage to between a man and a woman. That statute was struck down in May 2008, setting the stage for Proposition 8.

Lisa Belsanti said she woke the pair's 3-year-old daughter, Norah, by telling her that it was a great day.

"She thinks it's a great day because she's going to the museum. By the time she's of age to understand, this isn't even going to be part of her awareness," Belsanti said.

At a rally Wednesday night near two rainbow-colored crosswalks, hundreds gathered to celebrate.

Kacee Wheeler, 23, drove from Pico Rivera with her two best friends, Luis Escamilla, 23, and Ashley Kobe Gomez, 23, to attend. All three are gay or lesbian.

"We'll be out all night celebrating," Wheeler predicted with a grin.

hailey.branson@latimes.com

Times staff writers Kate Mather, Emily Foxhall, Anh Do, Mike Anton, Maria LaGanga, Angel Jennings, Abby Sewell, Ron Lin, Jean Merl and Bob Pool contributed to this report.

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