Pat Hendrickson and Kate Lewis knew they had no shot of marrying on Valentine’s Day. They knew that when they got to the counter at the Ventura County Government Center, they’d be told that in California there’s no such thing as same-sex marriage.
But like a dozen other gay and lesbian couples turned away by the county clerk Tuesday, the two women from Thousand Oaks said they were willing to take a stand, even if rejection stung.
“It hurt to have somebody say to us that you are less than, that you are not a full citizen,” said Hendrickson, 63, an Episcopal deacon who has been with her partner for eight years. “We don’t understand what threat we pose to anybody. In a country that says we are equal, we need to be able to live that.”
From Sonoma to San Diego, hundreds of gay and lesbian couples applied for marriage licenses and were turned down as part of a statewide campaign to shine a spotlight on efforts to legalize same-sex marriage.
About two dozen couples arrived at the Los Angeles County registrar’s office in Beverly Hills to exchange wedding vows, only to be turned away. Same-sex couples also tried their luck without success in Norwalk, Santa Ana, San Diego and Riverside.
The gay-rights group Equality California has sponsored similar Valentine’s Day operations for at least five years. But a representative said the issue took on greater urgency this year as opponents of same-sex marriage proposed ballot initiatives to amend the state constitution.
“We are being discriminated against based solely on our gender,” spokeswoman Stephanie Wells said. “We can get a driver’s license, we can get a business license but we can’t get a civil marriage license.”
The annual campaign has spurred a counteroffensive. The Campaign for Children and Families stopped at the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday for Day 5 of its Real Marriage Tour. The 11-city swing seeks to drum up support for a proposed ballot initiative that would limit marriage to between one man and one woman and roll back marriage-like benefits granted in recent years to domestic partners through a state registry.
“Valentine’s Day has been hijacked and that’s wrong,” said Randy Thomasson, who heads the initiative VoteYesMarriage.com. “This is a day about love between a man and a woman. Marriage and Valentine’s Day are both wonderful, good things but they need defense and protection.”
Valentine’s Day is the busiest day of the year for the Ventura County clerk and recorder’s office, and about 60 couples were expected to tie the knot Tuesday.
Edie Brown, 70, and longtime partner Beverly Taylor, 74, wanted to be among them, although it wasn’t like they hadn’t had the experience of marriage. After being together for nearly three decades, they ran off to Canada last summer and got hitched. They brought their framed wedding certificate to the government center in Ventura and showed it to the clerk reviewing their application. She smiled but still politely turned them down.
Brown said it’s about more than a piece of paper. With efforts underway to strip domestic partners of benefits they have gained in recent years, she said she fears losing the ability to visit her partner in the hospital, make medical decisions on her behalf and make sure her end-of-life wishes are respected.
“We’ve worked hard to gain these protections, and now people want to take them away,” said Brown, president of the board of directors of the Ventura County Rainbow Alliance, a gay and lesbian advocacy group. “This makes me determined to fight harder than ever.”
Although none of their loved ones got married, family members and friends snapped photos of the couples anyway and handed out bags of rice bearing tags that read: “We tried to apply for a marriage license at the Ventura County Clerk’s but all we got was this silly bag of rice!” Ventura resident Elizabeth Robledo went around tagging lapels with red broken heart stickers to put the day in its proper context.
“It’s not Valentine’s Day for gays, I guess,” Robledo said.
But dressed in a sharp blue suit, with a red rose peeking out from his lapel, Oxnard resident Harris Berger said the day had served its purpose and paid tribute to his 22-year relationship with partner Michael Quick.
“Michael and I are here to put a face on same-sex marriage,” Berger said. “We’re just regular people trying to demonstrate our love for one another.”