Gay marriage anniversary spurs mixed emotions in California |

Gay marriage anniversary spurs mixed emotions in California

Jared Grigsby / Associated Press Writer

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Jonathan Abernethy-Deppe vividly remembers the excitement he and his longtime partner felt standing in line at City Hall a year ago, shortly after California began granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The pair walked into a bustling scene at the clerk’s office in June 2008, greeted by other happy couples and county workers implementing a state Supreme Court ruling that overturned California’s gay marriage ban. The first same-sex nuptials in the state took place one year ago Tuesday.

“It was celebrated by not only the same-sex community but the whole community,” said Abernethy-Deppe, who held an intimate wedding a month later with his now-husband David.

But the Abernethy-Deppes say their upcoming anniversary won’t be nearly as jubilant.

A new voter-approved gay marriage ban has since passed. And last month the same Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8 – which amended the constitution to limit marriage to a man and a woman – while allowing the estimated 18,000 same-sex marriages that took place from June to November of last year to stand.

Abernethy-Deppe said that’s put him and his husband in the uncomfortable position of celebrating a right that 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.

“Had we not have lost Prop. 8, I think there would be a lot more celebrating on the one-year anniversary,” Felkner said. “Unfortunately, all of our energies have gone into our disappointment and not celebrating people gaining their civil rights and gaining their equality.”

In the weeks since the Supreme Court’s May 26 decision to uphold 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.”

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.

“The governor’s filing is not unanticipated, while we’d like to see him stand up for the California Constitution as enacted by the voters,” said Jeff Flint of Protect Marriage, the group that sponsored Proposition 8 and has asked a judge to intervene in the case.

A call seeking comment from Olson and Boies was not immediately returned.

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.”

Associated Press writer Louise Chu also contributed to this report.

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