News & Politics

Not in 'Our Town': San Franciscans Take to the Streets After Proposition 8 Decision [With Photo Slideshow]

600 gay-rights activists gathered Tuesday to protest the California Supreme Court's decision to uphold Prop. 8.

Photos by Tana Ganeva

Leigh Hessel is sitting in a patch of shade on the corner of Grove Street and Van Ness Avenue in downtown San Francisco. Above her, helicopters hang in the cloudless sky, bouncing their hiccupping drone off the streets below. To her left, a voice cracks through the musket-end of a megaphone: "Gay, straight, black, white: marriage is a civil right!" Behind her, police pull metal barricades from the bed of a truck, eyeing the 600 or so demonstrators who have gathered to protest California's upholding of Proposition 8.

Hessel's been here before. She and her wife, Candace Krueger, stood on this same corner five years ago when they were legally married for the first time. They endured what Hessel called "an eight-hour ordeal" in front of City Hall to tie the knot. Then, a few months later, their marriage was annulled.

They waited until October 2008 -- five months after the California Supreme Court passed down its 4-3 ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, and two weeks before voters approved Proposition 8 -- to get remarried, hoping they had found the right window.

Today's ruling, which allowed a cluster of same-sex marriages to still be recognized in California, came as a bittersweet victory for them: Though disappointed in the decision, Hessel and Krueger are pleased to be one of the 18,000 California couples whose marriages held up.

"I'm really relieved our marriages are legal, because I was thinking we'd have to go to Canada and get married again," Hessel said. "We really didn't want to have to go through it a third time."

Passed down in a 6-1 vote and written by Chief Justice Ronald M. George, the decision highlighted the right for same-sex couples in California to enter civil unions -- "committed, officially recognized and protected family relationship[s] that enjoy all of the constitutionally based incidents of marriage." Still, for some, such language was inadequate. Greta Christina, a blogger and gay-rights advocate, argued that the decision was no different from legally sanctioned discrimination.

"It is now official California state policy, written into our constitution, that fundamental rights can be taken away by a simple majority vote," she wrote. "It is now official California state policy that if enough people in the state don't like you, they can amend the constitution to restrict your access to the institutions and laws, the rights and responsibilities, that are generally available to everyone."

Echoing her sentiment was Tanya Johnson, a civil defense attorney and San Francisco native who was present at today's protest.

"This is about love, and it is about the right of consenting adults to make the associations that work for them," she said over the chants of nearby demonstrators. "We're not talking about pedophiles or anything crazy like that. We're talking about consenting adults wanting to marry another adult."

As Hessel and her wife looked on, a few dozen demonstrators sat down in the middle of the street across from them. Others patrolled the sidewalks, clutching signs and shouting gay-rights chants. Many had signed a "Decision Day Statement of Nonviolence" -- a document indicating they would not use physical aggression, drugs, hate speech or weapons in the protest. When the police began arresting those in the street shortly after noon, most went peacefully.

Hessel said that although she came to offer moral support to the demonstration, the gay community must do more than protest if it wants to defeat Prop. 8: It must access and persuade voting demographics that were ignored in November. The decision was passed by a narrow four-point margin.

"We have found that, unfortunately, the marriage-equality movement tends to be middle-class lesbians and gays. It left out a lot of us that aren't of that socioeconomic or racial background."

She added that she hopes it's just a matter of time before all same-sex marriages are legal in California.

"The next time it comes around on the ballot, I will do my part to strike down Prop. 8," she said. "I'll do whatever needs to be done.

"This is our town. As far as I'm concerned, San Francisco is our town."

Click here to find out how you can help fight for equality.

Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Election 2018