Jews take to the streets after Prop. 8 ruling

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Dropping her daughter off at school on the morning of May 26, Rabbi Camille Angel turned to the first-grader and said, “I’m not picking you up today. I’m going to get arrested.”

A few hours later, that’s exactly what happened when Angel was arrested along with some 160 others, including 30 religious leaders, in front of the California Supreme Court at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco. They were protesting the court’s decision to uphold Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage in the state.

The arrests were part of a long day of protests and counter-protests that included marches, sit-ins, rallies and prayer.

As the court’s decision was announced at 10 a.m. May 26, protesters gathered in Civic Center Plaza. Among them were Angel, spiritual leader of the largely LGBT Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, and fellow rabbis Sydney Mintz of Congregation Emanu-El and Reuben Zellman of Sha’ar Zahav.

Joining a crowd of morning protesters estimated at a couple hundred, Jews from around the Bay Area congregated under and around a chuppah set up near the steps of the court. The participants were from synagogues, the Jewish Community Relations Council, Progressive Jewish Alliance and the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s LGBT Alliance.

“We were all incredibly upset,” Mintz said.

When Mintz and many others sat down in the streets near Civic Center Plaza, the arrests began, though Mintz praised the police department’s handling of the incident. “They were mostly gay and lesbian cops,” she said. “They were incredibly respectful.”

Charged with misdemeanors, arrestees were handcuffed and taken to a nearby city jail for booking, then held for three hours in an open-air holding facility.

Shortly after her release, Mintz said, “The spirit was great. The fight is not over.”

Not everyone in the Jewish community lamented the court’s ruling.

Amber Weiss stands beneath a chuppah to protest the Supreme Court ruling upholding Proposition 8.

The Orthodox Union released a statement saying that it “opposes in principle the recognition of same sex-marriage based on Jewish religious tradition, and we reiterate our opposition to this radical change to a timeless institution today.”

Similarly, the Orthodox organizations Agudath Israel of America and Agudath Israel of California said in a statement: “We are gratified that the will of the people of California to preserve the traditional meaning of marriage has been legally affirmed by the State Supreme Court.”

The statement went on to decry the court’s further decision to keep as legal the 18,000 same-sex marriages that were conducted in the five-month window following the state court’s May 2008 ruling to legalize same-sex unions.

That aspect of the court’s May 26 decision proved small comfort to the estimated crowd of 2,000 protesters that gathered later that day on the steps of City Hall for a late-afternoon rally and march.

“I don’t like the courts carving away at rights,” said attorney Deb Kinney, who co-chaired the Northern California finance committee of last fall’s No on 8 campaign. “The court’s original decision [legalizing same-sex marriage] was so well reasoned and well thought out. It’s a shame they couldn’t stand by this. I have a lot of respect for this court, but they failed today.”

Carrie Rice, membership director for San Francisco’s Congregation Sherith Israel, stood near the chuppah with a sign that read, “I am Jewish. I want equality.”

“As a progressive Jewish community,” Rice said, “we believe we’re all made in God’s image and have the same rights. It’s my responsibility to stand up for all people.”

Danielle Askini, a transgender woman arrested earlier in the day, returned to Civic Center for the evening rally and march. The granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Askini said, “It’s important to send a message we’re not going to do business as usual. All minority groups should be concerned.”

Askini added that her family has been fully supportive of her as a transgender person, noting that she received a call from her Holocaust-survivor grandmother that morning. “She said ‘Be safe,’ ” noted Askini, “ ‘and eat something before you go to jail. They may not feed you there.’ ”

From Civic Center Plaza, the 2,000 or so people marched past the Supreme Court building, shouting “Shame! Shame!” before heading toward Yerba Buena Gardens, where a second rally took place.

Deborah Newbrun (left) with son Gabe, and mother, Eva Newbrun, rally at the steps of City Hall. photos/dan pine

There, several speakers addressed the crowd, among them State Sen. Mark Leno. The San Francisco Democrat, who is both Jewish and gay, blasted the court’s decision as “foolishness … some same-sex marriages are recognized; others are not.”

JCRC Executive Director Rabbi Doug Kahn also spoke to the crowd, saying, “We stand with all who oppose the increasingly desperate efforts to deny full civil rights to those who simply ask to marry the one they love.”

He added: “We stand together today because we know from our own [Jewish] historical experience the pain, the vulnerability, and even the sense of violation that comes with discrimination, and we are determined that our friends in the LGBT community finally be spared that pain and injustice.”

As the big rally wound down, dozens gathered at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav for an early evening Jewish prayer service, led by Angel.

Toward the end of the service, the rabbi addressed the sanctuary while waving the “notice to appear” summons issued to her by the San Francisco Police Department about eight hours earlier.

“I’m hoping you’ll all come to the hearing,” she said of her upcoming court appearance. “It’s likely to be dismissed, but I think it’s incredibly important you show up for me.”

Congregants responded with cheers and applause.

Before the last congregant headed home, Angel reflected on the day’s events.

“It was clear to me that the justices were saying that the system is broken,” she said. “What gives me hope is the LGBT movement has gotten itself incredibly organized. There are days when the laws of the land must be protested. This was one of those days.”

And as for her early morning conversation with her first-grade daughter, in which Mom predicted she’d be arrested, “At first she was horrified,” Angel said. “But then she came to understand.”


Related stories:

Same-sex marriage is a moral issue worth fighting for

Prop. 8 ruling sticks a pin into the balloon of justice

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.