Mitchell Goldstone is a valued member of his community. Just look at the walls of the busy Irvine photo finishing shop he owns with partner Carl Berman.
They are covered with awards, letters of commendation from city officials and newspaper and magazine stories about the partners' innovative business ideas and community volunteer work during the six years they have lived and worked in Irvine.
But Goldstone and Berman are still fighting for acceptance in the larger world, because they are gay and they are married.
"In terms of civil rights struggles, this issue parallels the struggles of minority groups in every capacity," Goldstone said. "We want equal treatment under the law."
Goldstone, 33, and Berman, 32, will celebrate the first anniversary of their wedding this month, although they have been together for 13 years. They were married by Rabbi Arnold Rachlis at University Synagogue in Irvine, where more than 100 guests gathered to celebrate their union and offer support.
"The only concern the rabbi had was whether we were both Jewish," Goldstone said. "Everyone in our families had said, 'You two have been together for 12 years, don't you think it's about time you got married?' It was basically our families that pushed us into it. But we also thought it was the right thing to do."
With public opinion polls indicating that a majority of Americans oppose marriage rights for homosexuals, Goldstone said he appreciates the ongoing support he receives from friends, customers and business associates. Goldstone and Berman are planning a nationwide expansion of their business, 30 Minute Photo Etc., which is profiled in this month's issue of Nation's Business, an 860,000 circulation magazine published by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"People are frightened about gays getting married, but our marriage is not going to threaten the marriage of a man and a woman," Goldstone said. "We're not talking about sex. We're talking about who you love.
"Carl and I are passionately in love with each other. We respect each other and share each other's lives together. We've done this for almost 14 years, yet we can't get a marriage certificate through the state.
"This is really hypocritical. Say you have two people, a man and a woman, they're in Las Vegas and they're at the blackjack table and they're having a grand time. They're drinking, they get a little drunk and they decide to go down the street to the wedding chapel and get married. They will have a marriage license that is recognized in all 50 states.
"Yet Carl and I, with all the years that we've had together, with the life that we've built together, cannot get that license."
Without a marriage license, Goldstone and Berman are denied recognition as next of kin, have no rights of hospital visitation and have no automatic claim to inherit property if one of them dies.
"We have to file single tax returns. And as business owners, when we seek financing, we have to check off 'single' on legal documents. It is a definite disadvantage. When a loan officer sees that a person is married for 14 years, it shows a stability that we cannot legally claim."
Goldstone is not encouraged about the prospects for legal recognition of homosexual marriage. The federal Defense of Marriage Act, which would define marriage as an exclusively heterosexual union, was passed by an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives last month and is expected to win easy approval in the U.S. Senate this fall. President Clinton said he would sign the bill if it passes in its current form.
"I am very deeply concerned and saddened by President Clinton not being more aggressive in embracing the gay and lesbian community. However, it's very important to note that no president in the history of the United States has done more positive things for gays and lesbians. I know it would be difficult for him politically to move forward."
The House bill is similar to a proposal in the California Legislature to prohibit same-sex marriages.
But Goldstone said he does not feel ostracized in Orange County, where his business donates film, photography and money to numerous community fund-raisers. Goldstone and Berman were given spousal membership rates at the Sports Club-Irvine, and they are currently working with community members to plan a historic photo display for Irvine's 25th anniversary celebration.
"We need to remember that whether you're going to the Olympics or going out to dinner or flying on an airplane--whatever you're doing in life--there is going to be a gay person there or a lesbian," Goldstone said.
"And that person may just be the one to help you or assist you, or even save your life, but you may never know that. Once the world recognizes that Carl and I are not very unique, things will change."
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Profile: Mitchell Goldstone
Hometown: Great Neck, Long Island
Family: Married to Carl Berman
Education: Bachelor's degree in business and entrepreneurship from USC
Background: Director of marketing for Institutional Investor Magazine; director of marketing and assistant to the chairman for Venture Magazine; opened 30 Minute Photo Etc. in Irvine with partner Carl Berman in 1990
On acceptance: "When Carl and I were at the Olympics for the opening ceremonies, we saw the future. People of every race, every culture, every religion, together in unity. Everyone got along. That, to me, is what we need to work on."
Source: Mitchell Goldstone; Researched by RUSS LOAR / For The Times