Perry v. Schwarzenegger

Alex Forbes and Bob Sibley - link to memoriam

1990-2005 forever

When I’ve talked about the wonderful fifteen years I spent with my partner Bob Sibley (Bob passed away of cancer in 2005), that’s just “anecdotal“.

When I’ve written of our own hard-won California State Registered Domestic Partnership (SRDP), and about our legal inability to bind those ties with a contract having the same constitutional force of law as a marriage, that’s just the way things have always been for two hundred and thirty-four years.

The times they are a-changin’. Many believe this is all about state sanction of “approved” sexual orientation, and who may “regulate” that approval. Put that way, it is. All of which inescapably leads to the broader understanding: it’s really about equality and  civil rights.

In Perry v. Schwarzenegger the big legal guns are appearing before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The case is likely to wind up in the Supreme Court.

Once again, this case challenges the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 (which overturned a previous state Supreme Court ruling allowing gay marriage). Many in the LGBT community are fearful that a defeat in Perry v. Schwarzenegger could upset the applecart – that long, drawn-out slow process of winning full civil and legal equality from the existing reactionary and uncharitable entrenched political establishment.

The prospect of the United States Supreme Court effectively validating gay marriage (as long as Scalia is seated) is universally conceded to be a long shot.

The Perry v. Schwarzenegger defense – the pro-Prop-8 lobby – has filed with the court to prevent live filming of the proceedings.

Decades ago, gays and lesbians mortally feared exposure of their identities by the press. In an ironic reversal, it’s now the anti-gay forces who seek legal shelter from press disclosure.  Perhaps this is the surest sign yet the establishment is on the defensive.

So there’s no guarantee Perry v. Schwarzenegger won’t prove a setback for LGBT civil rights – as some fear.

What has changed over the decades is the new perception of gays and lesbians as the underdogs. Even within the anti-gay lobbies and political action groups,  rank-and-file citizens  increasingly aren’t especially anti-gay at all. They may harbor a certain sympathy for the legal plight of gays and lesbians, but simply aren’t ready for the “marriage” word.

If Perry v. Schwarzenegger fails, this will be understood as further proof that the law still sanctions selective discrimination in the United States. We’re still excluding what’s probably America’s last minority group, a target group which still lacks recognition and standing before the very courts and legislatures sworn to uphold the constitutional rights of all.

Here in La Parola, we’d argued for years that we didn’t care whether it was called “marriage” or “civil union”; we wanted equal rights. Unfortunately, as long as it’s called something else, it’s legally distinguishable from “marriage”, and will suffer from the same old exclusionary discrimination.

One man cannot hold another man down in the ditch without remaining down in the ditch with him. — Booker T. Washington

We need to suck it up and do what we can to save our Liberty Bell. When some citizens are allowed to let rights be dispensed like so many party favors, or a reserved chair in “musical chairs”, we thereby undermine the foundation of  rights for all citizens.

It’s time for all of us to get over the “m” word and eliminate partisan dispensation of constitutional rights to favored groups of American citizens.


No matter where you thought you stood on “gay marriage”, it’s time to brush up on the constitutional issues and new legal developments. We recommend these two postings:

  • A Risky Proposal – by Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker
  • Perry v. Schwarzenegger – Wikipedia briefing
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