Absent from Tuesday evening’s downtown protest, held at the Courthouse Sunken Gardens in the wake of the earlier California Supreme Court 6-1 ruling to uphold Proposition 8, was the fervor that accompanied some of “No on 8” pre-election demonstrations held statewide. In its place was a calculated intensity of purpose. While the ruling that restored a ban on same-sex marriages was universally condemned in private conversation and public demonstration, it was treated as merely another scalable obstacle for LBGT communities here in Santa Barbara and throughout California.
Speaking to a few attendees milling about the lawns before the night’s events began, the overall sentiment was of predicted disappointment. “I’m devastated but not surprised,” said Colette Schabram of Pacific Pride Foundation (PPC), which helped organize the protest. David Kyriaco, an area resident, said similarly, “I’m not shocked or anything, just sad. I feel like the writing was on the wall for a while.”
Some in attendance felt that the coverage and attention devoted to the prolonged Prop. 8 debate has noticeably waned since November, and that Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling didn’t receive adequate exposure. “Coverage of this has faded. The news let it die down,” said Michael McGrath. “To find out what’s going on, you now have to actively seek out information.” Amy Lovelace, who described herself as “a teacher who believes in the democratic process,” concurred by adding, “I’m surprised there wasn’t more attention paid to the ruling and what immediately led up to it.”
Still others, while waiting to the first speaker to climb the steps of the Sunken Gardens, appeared more indignant with recent events. “I just don’t know why California can’t pull its head out if its ass,” said Robert Johns.
After waiting for more people to congregate in the open space, David Selberg, PPF executive director, began by thanking everyone for their attendance and commitment, expressing how pleased he was with the large turnout. Speaking to the crowd waving dozens of signs that read, “‘I Do’ Support the Freedom to Marry,” Selberg went on to lament that same-sex marriages were made legal for only a short period of time, during which only a fraction of affected couples in California who might have wanted to become married were able to do so. “But,” he continued, “what was taken away at the ballot box will be restored at the ballot box,” referring to the widespread speculation that new marriage equality legislation will likely be introduced as early as 2010.
Selberg also evoked famous gay rights activist Harvey Milk’s philosophy that, in the fight for total equality, the LGBT community must make itself readily heard and visible to the masses, and that grassroots, local-level efforts make the largest difference in opening eyes and changing minds. Referring to the phone banking and door-to-door exchanges that Santa Barbara volunteers carried out prior to the first Prop. 8 vote, Selberg said, “We got a lot farther than slick TV commercials and expensive advertisements did. It’s not easy to go door-to-door, but that’s what we gotta do. We gotta talk to people who may not want us to talk to them.”
Selberg did not, however, hesitate to commend the community for its voting record on November 4’s election day. “Santa Barbara should be proud that it is the only county in Central and Southern California that voted against Proposition 8.” The county did indeed tally a majority vote against Prop. 8 with 53.53 percent. But, Selberg said, it is important to look forward and keep positive momentum going.
Shortly thereafter, former State Assemblymember Hannah-Beth Jackson took center stage and held up a sign reading, “This is SO not over.” “This is something that younger people might say,” said Jackson, “but to me, it is the best statement I’ve seen. This fight is far from over.” She too stressed the importance of not yielding to defeat in light of recent setbacks, but advocated pushing ahead with unflinching resolve.
A contingent of faith-based organizations in opposition to Prop. 8 and the recent Supreme Court decision also made their presence known. Representatives from Trinity Episcopal Church, Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Congregation, and the Unitarian Society spoke to the crowd. “We believe it is a profoundly religious value that we sanctify love and marriage for all,” said Reverend Aaron McEmrys of the Unitarian Society. “Sisters and brothers,” he went on, “change has never come easy in this country, but we will prevail.” Reverend Erika Hewitt of Live Oak followed up by stating that the “wall” blocking gay people from legally wedding is closer to crumbling than one might think. “I personally believe that the wall has enough cracks in it that it will not hold,” she said.
The event also had its fair share of memorable quotes and moments from audience members who, at the request of David Selberg, spoke their minds to the crowd. Sean Ray of the Pacific Pride Foundation’s Strategic Alliance of Marriage Equality (SAME) admitted, “I’m not angry, I’m just tired. But I’m not done. I know a lot of you are tired too, but it’s not done till we win, and we will win. The right thing will happen.”
Santa Barbara resident Riley, one of the gay Californians who were able to marry their partners in the short time span of opportunity, read from her personal writings: “Marriage is not just something between a man and a woman. Why? Because my wife and I did it.” In a particularly poignant moment later on, a group of young students stepped up and declared, “Once you guys get tired, we’ll be there to keep fighting.” And finally, a young girl, who couldn’t have been more than 10 years old, closed out the public speeches by succinctly articulating the event’s overall message, “It’s not what’s happened. It’s what’s going to happen.”
More than one protestor mentioned that only 18,000 gay couples were able to wed while same-sex marriage was legal in California, but after speaking with Mary Rose Bryson, recorder division manager with the County Clerk’s office, this number may be up for debate. According to Bryson, it is actually illegal for any recorder’s office to track the gender of marriages; all marriage certificates are completely gender-neutral. “There is absolutely no concrete information that says how many marriages in California are same-sex or not,” Bryson said.
She went on to say that any news agency that reports a specific number has engaged in serious guesswork. “Reporters will go in and look at marriage certificates and, just by reading the first names, guess what gender each person is.” Bryson claimed that the Sacramento Bee was one of the first news agencies to take on this practice, and that the trend simply caught on.
While the Sunken Garden protest was taking place, up the road at UCSB a similar demonstration was underway. A crowd of about 150 people gathered under Storke Tower to similarly protest the Supreme Court ruling. The organizers of the event, Urvi Nagrani and Brian Nguyen, both spoke, as did the outgoing president of UCSB Democrats, Chrissy Elles; the new president, Amanda Wallner; and the cochair of the Associated Students’ (AS) Queer Commission, Gloria Schindler.
After the speakers concluded their opening remarks, the crowd marched along UCSB’s bike trail onto Pardall Road in Isla Vista, and proceeded to walk the entire I.V. Loop (Embarcadero Del Norte to Embarcadero Del Mar and back to Pardall) before returning to Storke Tower. Schindler wrote to The Independent that, “many people joined in the march as we went by, and our numbers grew.”
Several participants sported shirts that displayed their affiliation with school organizations including the Friendly Undergraduate Queers in It Together (FUQIT) and the AS Queer Commission. A few chants could also be heard along the line of marchers, the most popular beginning with, “What do we want!?” and answered by, “Equality!” The chant would then continue with, “When do we want it!?” to which the crowd would vehemently respond, “Now!”
After returning to the tower, the protestors held an open mike session. According to Schindler, the group had been planning for the “Day of Decision” since the March 5 Supreme Court hearing when it was announced that a decision about the Prop. 8 would be made within 90 days. The organizers planned two different events for the same location depending on the court’s decision. “We were either going to party in the streets, or protest in the streets,” Schindler wrote in an email to The Independent. She went on, “Delaying the process is just making a bunch of angry queers and allies. Gay marriage is inevitable, it’s just going to take some time.”
While many within Santa Barbara echo Schindler’s assertion that legal same-sex marriage is inescapable, some disagree that it’s only a matter of time. Pastor Troy Spilman of Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara feels that such predictions “are pure speculation. Who knows what’s going to happen?” When asked his reaction to Tuesday’s ruling, Spilman replied, “It’s clear that the government is behind the voice of the people. In fact, [Proposition 8] is nothing different than what President Obama has said about marriage between a man and a woman.”
When pressed further about his views on same-sex marriage, Spilman stated, “Marriage is God’s invention. Man didn’t make it up, so he shouldn’t change it.” He went on, “I believe marriage is something God has clearly defined and we should leave it that way.” Calvary Chapel, said Spilman, is not the only Santa Barbara church that maintains this stance on the divisive issue; Vineyard Christian Fellowship, Harvest Christian Fellowship, Santa Barbara Community Church, and the Mormon Church all side with traditional marriage arguments, said Spilman. No one from these institutions were either willing or able to speak to The Independent, however, about their reactions to Tuesday’s ruling.