Tuesday, June 17, was a momentous day for gay couples in Santa Barbara County. For many, it was the day that they finally obtained a legal license to get married. For several, it was indeed their wedding date.
On May 15, the California State Supreme Court overturned Proposition 22, the ban on same-sex marriages, declaring by a margin of 4-3 that the ban was unconstitutional. Within the 172-page decision, Chief Justice Ronald George declared that “an individual’s sexual orientation-like a person’s race or gender-does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights.” David Selberg, executive director of Pacific Pride Foundation, put Tuesday’s celebrations in the context of “love and individual liberties.” Selberg said such rights “need to be the same for these couples as they are for heterosexual couples.” For some, “marriage” is just a word, but for many, it is a turning point in their relationships.
This historic day began early for Bonnie Beedles and Frann Wageneck, the first lesbian couple to obtain a marriage license in Santa Barbara. Although they were not first in line outside the courthouse before the 8 a.m. opening, they were the first to complete the entire process. Both Santa Barbara natives, Wageneck and Beedles originally met through mutual friends more than eight years ago. As Wageneck put it, “We’ve been married for eight years : This ruling doesn’t change our relationship.”
Percy Sales and Ross Beardsley were married a few hours after obtaining their license on Tuesday morning. They held the wedding in the bell tower of the courthouse, and the views provided perfect scenery for the ceremony. Mayor Marty Blum officiated the ceremony per the request of Sales, a close friend. The mood in the bell tower was light and easygoing, and the small crowd of family, friends, and some unsuspecting tourists looked excited for the couple. The couple’s vows were a variation of the traditional “to have and to hold.” Instead, the men both recited “not to have, but to be my friend, companion and lover-not to hold, but to share my life with.” They were then presented to the cheering group as “husband and husband, man and man.” A small chorus immediately began singing “Oh Happy Day,” and Sales and Beardsley let a bunch of colorful balloons float away from the side of the building.
Blum also married Andy and Manny Edgar-Beltran, close friends of Sales and Beardsley, in the bell tower. Despite feeling slightly overwhelmed, Andy Edgar-Beltran said it “feels pretty normal just to walk here and do it.”
Of course, not everyone was excited for Tuesday’s events. There were a few people from Goleta’s Jubilee Christian Church quietly protesting on the courthouse steps. Connie White said she was there in mourning and that the Supreme Court ruling marked “watering down of what God has sanctified.” Kevin Ott and Stacey Eymann also voiced peaceful disagreement with the same-sex marriage licenses. They said they hope that citizens will turn out to vote against this ruling in November. Other religious leaders also were present at the courthouse in support of gay couples’ marriage. “All couples deserve the right to make choices. : The God I represent embraces all,” said Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Minister Erika Hewitt. The priest present on Tuesday, Mark Asman of Trinity Episcopal Church, was also in support of the decision.
Frank Schubert of ProtectMarriage.com said he opposed the court’s decision in favor of same-sex marriage. According to Schubert, his problem is not with homosexual couples who have received a marriage license but with the Supreme Court. He and other volunteers are working all over California to fight what they see as the possibility of marriage being rendered meaningless.
In November, citizens can vote on whether to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision. In either case, gay and lesbian communities across California can celebrate what May 15 has brought about, if perhaps temporarily.