Same-sex marriage supporters in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa on Wednesday cheered a pair of landmark Supreme Court decisions striking down California’s Proposition 8 and a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act while religious leaders recognized that a cultural tide is shifting, though their beliefs are not.
“Today was a win,” said Eliza Rubenstein, artistic director of the Orange County Women’s Chorus and an outspoken proponent of gay marriage equality. “Sure, I’m disappointed [the decision not to hear an appeal in California’s Proposition 8 case] wasn’t more sweeping, but people on both sides have recognized that the tide has turned and it’s not going back.”
However, it could be weeks before same-sex weddings resume, as a federal appeals court must first lift a hold on the original decision that struck down Proposition 8.
Still, Rubenstein said she was “running on happy fumes,” and that after years of fighting for marriage equality, the morning’s decisions came as “an enormous step in the right direction.”
Tom Thorkelson, who spoke personally and not on behalf of the Orange County Council of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where he serves as interfaith director, said that while he sees the legal recognition of same-sex marriage as “a step in the wrong direction for society,” the decisions weren’t unexpected.
“Since the passage of Prop. 8, public opinion has moved steadily and inexorably toward an approval of same-sex marriage,” he said, adding that he supports equal treatment for same-sex unions, but that they shouldn’t be called marriages.
Added Newport Beach businessman Bill Dunlap, a local Republican Party leader: “For me, it’s about the label.”
“The names ‘Google’ and ‘Microsoft’ have been taken ‘Marriage’ has been taken,” he said. “If they want to call it something else, I would support that, but ‘marriage’ has been taken for a man and a woman.”
Still, Thorkelson said he recognized that from a political standpoint, “If Prop. 8 was voted on today, it wouldn’t pass.”
“Things I cannot change, I move ahead and make the best I can,” he said. “I am not walking out of here with antagonism or negative feelings.”
The Rev. Sarah Halverson, pastor of Fairview Community Church in Costa Mesa, said that although California has taken legal action to safeguard rights for gay and lesbian couples, “There’s a lot more to do.
“There are 37 states we need to fight for,” she said. Plus, “religiously, we’re not done.
“It’s very hard to stand up against your denomination, and to speak truth to power in a congregation that may not believe the same way you do.”
Costa Mesa-based Whittier Law School Professor Judith Daar wrote in an email that, on a practical level, allowing same-sex marriage will give gay and lesbian couples’ children, “the benefit of parental certainty.”
Daar, who is also a clinical professor at UC Irvine’s School of Medicine, wrote that while California law has “become increasingly supportive of the rights of unmarried, same-sex couples to enjoy legal recognition as parents, the status of being married provides the most comprehensive protection of those rights.”
“To me, that’s a small part of it, but I think it’s an important part of today’s monumental decisions,” she said in a phone interview.
UC Irvine political science professor Tony Smith called Wednesday “a great day for the Constitution,” in spite of the questions the court’s Proposition 8 decision raised about the state ballot initiative process.
That, he said, was “undermined” in a “pretty substantial and dramatic way.”
While Orange County is often counted as one of the state’s more conservative counties, Smith said he hasn’t seen that in his students — at least as far as gay rights are concerned.
“Students are a little puzzled that people’s sexual orientation is an issue,” he said. “This is a generation that hasn’t really embraced the prejudices of their previous generations.”