Berkeley Families Celebrate Court Decision on Same-Sex Marriage

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday May 16, 2008 - 05:08:00 PM

As news of the California Supreme Court’s 4-3 decision affirming same-sex marriage broke Thursday, gay and lesbian couples in Berkeley declared victory. 

Several hundred people gathered at the San Francisco City Hall around 10 a.m. to hear the court’s ruling, that California is the second state in the country, after Massachusetts, where gay couples have been judged to have a constitutional right to marry. 

Berkeley resident and executive director of Bay Area-based gay and lesbian family support group Our Family Coalition Judy Appel went to the steps of San Francisco City Hall at 10 a.m. to hear the decision. 

“It’s a really amazing day,” said Appel, the mother of two Oxford Elementary School students, whom she is raising with her partner. 

Our Family Coalition was one of the plaintiffs in the court case, Appel said. 

“It’s a victory for all in California,” she said. “It really affirms California as a state which recognizes gays and lesbians as equals. It has awarded us the same rights. This is just the beginning of a sea change throughout the country.” 

As organization plaintiffs, Our Family Coalition highlighted the importance of the case for children belonging to same-sex parents. 

“It’s a historic day to have the Supreme Court declare that everybody has equal rights to partake in civic institutions, particularly marriage. We were so thrilled that the courts courageously declared that gay and lesbian couples can also raise families when they get married, if they decide to do so,” she said. 

“It’s important our children know parents are equal to other parents and have the right to marry. My kids have been really worried about this.” 

Like thousands of other same-sex couples, Appel and her partner got married at the San Francisco City Hall in 2004, only to see the union later nullified by the courts. 

“We can get married all over again, and we will,” said a jubilant Appel. 

Hundreds of gay and lesbian couples turned up at the Charles M. Holmes Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) Center on Market Street in San Francisco Thursday evening for a “Celebration of Love and Family,” and thousands celebrated on the street in the Castro. 

Moments after the news was announced, the youth group from the Pacific Center for Human Growth—a LGBT organization based in Berkeley—took the rainbow flag hoisted in front of their building on Telegraph Aveune and ran across the street to Willard Park to celebrate. 

“It’s tremendous news for everybody,” said Pacific Center Board President Scott Vachon, who has been with the organization for six years. “The Supreme Court made the right decision. This is much more than gay and lesbian rights. It’s about human and civil rights. It’s about treating everybody fairly and equally with respect.” 

The Pacific Center has several hundred LGBT members, Vachon said. 

“I was 10 years old when being gay was declassified as a mental illness. Now I am 45 years old and people in the LGBT community have opportunities to marry,” he said. “In 35 years, a lot has happened.” 

Vachon said that until last week, people at the center were bracing themselves for disappointment about the court decision. 

“But the Supreme Court really took a firm stand on human rights,” he said. “Gay couples and gay families deserve the same rights and respect and dignity as anybody else in the state of California.” 

The court’s decision, which becomes effective in 30 days, faces a threat from conservative groups who are proposing a new initiative to ban same-sex marriage. 

Right after the decision was announced, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom told a roaring crowd: “It’s about human dignity. It’s about human rights. It’s about time in California. 

“I am married again,” said Berkeley resident Ed Valenzuela, who adopted Malcolm X first-grader Kiki with his partner Gary Walker seven years ago. “We got married four years ago at City Hall and it’s exciting to have a valid marriage license again. I hung on to it in the hope that it would become valid one day. There are some complications ... Some people are trying to put up an amendment to change the constitution and we have to fight that through the election season.” 

Valenzuela and his partner decided to get married primarily for their daughter Kiki. “We did it so that she could see us get married and know that we were just like any other family,” he said. “It’s time for another celebration, time for another victory.”