SAN FRANCISCO – Jonathan Abernethy-Deppe vividly remembers the bustling San Francisco city clerk’s office and the happiness of fellow couples last year when California began granting same-sex marriage licenses.
But he and his now-husband, David, say their first anniversary won’t be nearly as jubilant. Last month the state Supreme Court upheld a gay-marriage ban while allowing about 18,000 such marriages that occurred last year to stand.
Abernethy-Deppe said that’s put him and his husband in the uncomfortable position of celebrating a right many of their friends don’t have.
“We have a debate between us about whether or not we should even accept the benefits that we have from our marriage as long as there are people being discriminated against,” he said.
While his husband would rather opt out of the benefits for now, Abernethy-Deppe wants to “take advantage of every benefit and push it to its farthest extent and prove that same-sex marriage is a benefit to society.”
Tom Felkner and his husband, Bob Lehman, said they’re equally ambivalent about their upcoming anniversary.
“Unfortunately, all of our energies have gone into our disappointment and not celebrating people gaining their civil rights and gaining their equality,” Felkner said.
In the weeks since the Supreme Court’s May 26 decision to uphold ballot measure known as Proposition 8, gay marriage proponents have turned their attention toward rallying support for a planned 2010 ballot initiative seeking to again legalize same-sex nuptials.
Meanwhile, two federal lawsuits filed on behalf of gay couples seek to put the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court, including one by famed attorneys Theodore Olson and David Boies, who opposed each other in the 2000 presidential election challenge, Bush v. Gore.
Late Tuesday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of the named defendants, filed his response to the complaint filed by Olson and Boies, saying the lawsuit “presents important constitutional questions that require and warrant judicial determination.”
“Today’s filing by Gov. Schwarzenegger bolsters our call for a swift end to the constitutionally intolerable situation created by Proposition 8,” said Chad Griffin, board president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the organization backing the plaintiffs.
California Attorney General Jerry Brown, another defendant, filed his response last week, saying he agrees that Proposition 8 “imposed a special disability on gays and lesbians and their families on the basis of sexual orientation” in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s promise of equal protection and due process.
Schwarzenegger didn’t elaborate on the merits of the lawsuit.
As part of their statewide campaign for the 2010 ballot, gay rights groups say they want to focus on reaching out to more conservative parts of the state that carried Proposition 8 in the last election, as well as protecting existing same-sex marriages.
“Their presence in California serves to show that married gay couples don’t cause any problems,” said Jennifer Pizer, director of the marriage project at Lambda Legal, which argued against Proposition 8 before the California Supreme Court.
Equality California and California Faith for Equality planned to commemorate the anniversary of the first same-sex weddings Tuesday with gatherings in San Francisco and Los Angeles, followed by ones elsewhere in the state Wednesday.
Louise Brooks, spokeswoman for California Faith for Equality, said organizers want to celebrate last year’s milestone in gay rights while renewing calls to push for continued same-sex marriage rights.
She said the events, designed to be more like vigils than parties, are “a remembrance of what we once had but don’t have anymore.”
Earlier this month, New Hampshire became the sixth U.S. state to legalize gay marriage, following Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont and Iowa. Opponents hope to overturn Maine’s law with a public vote.
Associated Press writer Louise Chu also contributed to this report.