Same-sex couples react to passage of Proposition 8

After months of fighting for equality, same-sex couples lost the battle Nov. 4, with a majority of California voters denying them the right to marriage.

“Gays, lesbians and their families are feeling more vulnerable to the hateful prejudice and phobia that continues to determine our fate,” said Rabbi Camille Angel of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco.

Roughly 52 percent of California voters favored Proposition 8, a ballot measure that amends the state constitution to say only marriage between a man and a woman is valid. The action overturns the state Supreme Court decision that gave gay couples the right to wed just months ago.

“It’s an excrutiating reminder that homophobia still exists,” Angel said. “On the same day we finally see a victory for [Barack] Obama and the dignity it brings to the African American community, Californians’ rights are denied.”

Similar reactions were widespread throughout the Bay Area Jewish community.

“We’re devastated,” said Sharon Papo of Berkeley, who married her partner, Amber Weiss, for the second time this summer. “It’s really hard to have a majority vote against your civil rights.”

And yet that sadness was buffered by the joy of Obama’s victory.

“We are absolutely ecstatic and elated that Obama is our president,” Papo said.

The two women married June 17 at San Francisco City Hall. Their eyes shining with tears, they faced each other, held hands and said “I do” in front of a throng of reporters, photographers and their friends. Two years earlier, they stood under a chuppah in a redwood grove in Santa Cruz.

The fanfare at City Hall landed the attractive Berkeley couple on the cover of this newspaper and in the pages of People magazine.

Avi Rose, who married his longtime partner, Ron Strochlic, later in the summer, in August, said the passing of Proposition 8 and the election of Obama to the White House made for a bittersweet evening in their home.

Rose is the executive director of Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the East Bay. He and Strochlic have two children, ages 5 and 6, both of whom are multiracial.

“Having a black president is very meaningful to our family, and very powerful for our children,” Rose said.

“The sad truth is that with any civil rights or social

justice struggle, you will have setbacks along the way,” he added. “And one of the messages of Obama’s election is that patience and persistence do pay off.”

Vanessa Eismann, a member of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav and formerly a civil rights attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, married her partner, Cate Whiting, for the second time in June. She woke up Nov. 5 feeling “heartbroken, depressed and infuriated.”

Three months before the couple legally wed, Eismann gave birth to a baby boy. She shudders thinking about how she’ll explain the passage of Proposition 8 to her son once he’s old enough to understand.

“No child should have to be told his family is second class or second rate, that they are not deserving of the same rights,” Eismann said.

Gay and lesbian couples understand that leaders from the “Yes on 8” campaign will attempt to overturn their marriages, but Eismann isn’t worried.

“There’s nothing in Prop. 8 that hints that it’s retroactive,” she said. “Our marriage, and the marriage of thousands of others, will continue to be valid.”

Couples who married this summer and fall said they were frustrated that other couples will not have the same right in the future.

But “people will continue to get married,” Rose said. And, he said, the battle for civil rights is not over.

“At some point, California law will catch up to the reality of our lives,” he said.

Angel, the rabbi at Sha’ar Zahav, was not as optimistic, yet she still feels progress can be made.

“Homophobia is a prejudice that is washed into children at the youngest of ages,” she said. “Our job is to continue creating alliances with people across race, class and faith, so that all of God’s children will be treated equally.”

Angel planned to gather with the Sha’ar Zahav community the evening of Nov. 5 to be with those who worked to raise money and raise awareness for the “No on 8” cause.

She urged married Jewish same-sex couples to take their ketubahs off of their walls and read them again and again — because, she said, “their marriages are still recognized in the eyes of God and in the eyes of those who witnessed and celebrated their kiddushin (sanctity of marriage).”

Rabbi Yoel Kahn of Congregation Beth El in Berkeley married his partner for the third time this summer. He’s disappointed that the same right will be denied to gay and lesbian couples who want to marry in the future.

Nonetheless, he was impressed by the support — both personal and institutional — he received from the Jewish community.

“I think the organized Jewish community should be proud of its leadership in opposition to Proposition 8,” he said.

Kahn was also heartened that Proposition 8 passed by just 52 percent of the electorate, compared to the similar Proposition 22 from 2000. In the case of of Prop. 22, 61 percent of California citizens voted against recognizing same-sex marriage.

That’s proof of progress, he said.

Invoking the wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr., Kahn said that “history is moving in the direction of justice.”