San Jose recognizes same-sex marriages

Since I had recently published my views on same-sex marriage in Transgender Forum ("DOMA, FMA, the Olympics, and Me", March 8), I felt it incumbent on me to share my insights with the San Jose City council as they considered a proposal to recognize same-sex marriages of city employees who had been married in San Francisco or other jurisdictions, and to grant them full spousal benefits. So I spent the afternoon of March 9 in council chambers as the city officials listened to testimony from the public on this matter.

About 150 citizens spoke to the council. I thought they were about 50/50 split for and against, but a news account says it was more like 75% against. The dominant "against" argument was: "But, but, but, it's against the law!!!! It's against the will of the people! Prop 22, you know!" Also, "This lawlessness will result in chaos and anarchy!" echoing the sentiments The Governator expressed on Meet The Press a couple of weeks ago. (Schwarzenegger, in his charming Austrian accent, told Tim Russert, "All of a sudden, we see riots, we see protests, we see people clashing. The next thing we know, there is injured or there is dead people. We don't want it to get to that extent.") Much law was read into the transcript, in the two minute chunks that people were granted for speaking time. The Aw, C'mon, You've Got To Be Kidding! moment of the day was when a woman practically broke into tears begging the council, "Please don't make me go home and tell my little daughter that she has to obey the rules while her city council feels free to break them! Boo-hoo, boo-hoo." I have to admit that it is pretty cool that her little girl pays attention to city politics.

The second most popular "against" position was that of the God squad, of course. Many bible verses were read into the record. Fortunately, several ministers and pastors spoke up to endorse the proposal as well.

For me, the most disturbing "against" argument, which was brought up by just a few people, was, "Forget about marriage benefits, we already grant domestic partnership benefits." I guess I'm unsettled by this argument because I have to admit that the incremental approach makes a certain amount of sense, while nevertheless I'm all for the "strike while the iron is hot!" strategy. The counter-argument, which was raised by several people (as well as the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court), is that we know "separate but equal" means "NOT equal."

The Least Gracious award goes to the Caucasian guy who said, "My wife is Asian, and I have to tell you, it makes me very angry when I hear people compare homosexual marriage rights to interracial marriage rights." He seemed to be on the verge of explaining that it was different because being Asian isn't an abmonination, but he swallowed that and stumbled off.

The sweetest moment of the day was when a cute, young, yuppie, gay guy approached the podium with his beautiful, three year old daughter, swaddled in pink, gathered in his arms. He related how he and his life partner settled in San Jose because of our city's generous embrace of diversity, and that all he wants to do is to provide for his family's needs. He also gets the award for Best Use Of Visual Aids!

About an hour into the testimony, Fran Bennett, formerly popular KOME and KUFX disc jockey Weird Old Uncle Frank, took the podium. She shared two minutes of her life story, emphasizing how becoming "the woman you see before you today" made wonderful changes in her life, and ended with an appeal for tolerance of people who are different. (Note: two trans women in a room of 400 citizens equals a prevalence of one per 200 population—hey, that's just about right!)

About two hours in, well-known lesbian activist and great friend of the trans community Wiggsy Sivertsen had her two minutes. She mentioned her life partner, a San Jose cop. She also assured the council that they needn't fear the threats of impeachment from the con side, because the political might of the LGBT community would never let that happen. I'm not sure that was particularly reassuring to the council members, but I admired Wiggsy's fighting spirit. She got a round of applause for it, even though the mayor had been constantly admonishing the audience to silence. (The local evening news did lead with, "Opponents threaten to recall San Jose Mayor Gonzales...")

Three hours in, my own name was called, the 106th person to speak. At this point, we were only being allowed a minute each. It was already 4:45pm and the pile still had 50 "yellow cards" of people who wanted to talk. It may be my imagination, but I do believe the bored and tired council perked up as I strode to the podium, six-foot-one-inch tall plus black strappy sandals with three inch heels, red hair blazing, shoulders bare in a black and white diagonal striped halter top and matching skirt. This is how I used my minute at the podium:

I support the proposal. I think this man/woman marriage thing is a throwback to a simpler time when men were men and women were women and everyone was heterosexual. But now we know that gender and sexuality are far richer and more complex than that. And if you doubt it, I stand before you to bear witness, for I myself have had a sex change. Who should I be allowed to marry—a man? A woman? Marriage should be a union between any two people. How simple! How beautiful! How about it?

And here is the result of the day:

San Jose agrees to recognize same-sex marriages

RACHEL KONRAD, Associated Press Writer

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

(03-09) 19:00 PST SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) --

San Jose became the first city in California to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, although the decision only applies to municipal workers.

The city council defied objections from conservatives and voted 8-1 Tuesday to pass a motion that could provide more comprehensive health and retirement benefits to partners and family members of gay and lesbian city workers who get married in San Francisco or other cities that allow same-sex marriages.

San Jose already provides domestic-partner benefits to 49 gay and lesbian workers. Seattle also has decided to recognize same-sex marriage licenses granted in other cities.

The motion was drafted by San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales and openly gay council member Ken Yeager. It's unclear whether health care providers will also agree to extend the benefits.

Over 400 residents crowded into council chambers and more than 200 were in overflow seating downstairs, including dozens of outspoken Christians who brought copies of the Bible and quoted scriptures. More than 100 people addressed council members, and roughly three out of four speakers said they were opposed to same-sex marriage.

"I don't live my life in fear of my God," Gonzales said in response to a resident who compared California to Sodom, the ancient city that God destroyed for its wickedness. "I hope when I have the opportunity to meet my God ... he or she will say, 'Good job."'

City worker Tina Salas, 46, a lesbian who got married last month in San Francisco, said she deserved the same rights as other married city workers. Her attempt to change her marital status and get health benefits for her partner's biological children sparked the debate.

The city provides medical coverage to her spouse, Kathleen Chavez Salas, but the couple pays hundreds of dollars per month to insure the children. Unlike opposite-sex married couples, Salas' pension would not have automatically passed to her spouse when she died before this resolution passed.

"All I want to do is take care of my family," Tina Salas said. "When I leave this earth, I don't want a hospital to tell my spouse and kids to leave my side because they don't have the rights and benefits to be there."

Even though the measure passed overwhelmingly, most speakers were opposed. Many had harsh words for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, whose administration began sanctioning same-sex marriages Feb. 12.

The licenses are being challenged in the courts. A voter-approved state initiative in 2000 declared that California recognizes only marriages between a man and a woman.

"I actually resent the term 'marriage' that's been used up here -- I call them 'Newsom unions' because it's something between marriage and civil unions, but it's not the law," said Don Jones, a white-haired San Jose resident who said he favored civil unions. "I'm not anti-homosexual, but I am for traditional marriage that made this country strong."

Larry Shoemaker quoted an Old Testament verse and brought a flashlight to council chambers because, he said, an earthquake and power outage would strike if the city recognized same-sex marriage. Shoemaker said he'd been fearing retribution since 1976, when he moved closer to "the fruits and nuts and freaks of San Jose."

Another man said the city was moving down a "slippery slope" and could be forced to recognize other unions -- such as bigamous relationships and even the romantic coupling of a father and son.

The meeting, which featured an overwhelming number of white and middle-aged or senior citizens, contrasted with the demographics of Santa Clara County. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, only 54 percent of county residents are white, and 25 percent are under 18.

David Vossbrink, communications director for the city, said politicians listened to speakers but voted according to what they believed was good for San Jose's 925,000 residents.

"Our city council won't make public policy by a show of hands in the room," Vossbrink said. "They look at where they want the community to move in the next five to 100 years and make the decision based on that judgment."

—Lannie Rose, 3/2004

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