Robin Tyler’s home was full of television and radio reporters Wednesday afternoon, awaiting her reaction to Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling on Proposition 8, and Tyler, a longtime gay activist, didn’t disappoint when Walker ruled that the voter approved ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
Tyler has been fighting for gay rights since 1971, and she sees Walker’s ruling as monumental.
In a sweeping 136-page decision, Walker declared that Proposition 8 violated the United State Constitution’s due process and equal protection clauses. The case is likely to be appealed and end up before the United States Supreme Court.
“Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license,” Walker wrote in his decision. “Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.”
Tyler says the scope of the decision is everything activists hoped for.
“This is of major importance because it is a Federal ruling. This judge has said that the United State Constitution considers this discrimination against us, and there is no reason why heterosexual marriage is more valid than our marriage, and that the majority cannot rule against the rights of the minority,” Tyler said. “This is a huge victory.”
Tyler and her wife, Diane Olson, were among the first couples in California to marry in June of 2008, and the first to marry in Los Angeles County, after the State Supreme Court ruled that the right to marry in the state constitution extends to same-sex couples. Rabbi Denise Eger of Temple Kol Ami performed Olson and Tyler’s wedding on the steps of Beverly Hills City Hall.
But Tyler said her own marriage has been bittersweet since Prop 8, passed by California voters in Nov. 2008, amended the state constitution to define marriages as between opposite genders.
“We don’t want marriage apartheid. We don’t want some of us to be married, while some of us can’t,” Tyler said. “There is no such thing as a gay driver’s license, or a gay birth certificate or gay death certificate – it’s not a gay marriage license. It’s just a marriage license.”
While Walker’s ruling restores the right to marriage, there won’t be a run on the chapels just yet: Walker temporarily stayed his ruling until Friday to allow Prop. 8 backers to file appeals and seek a long-term stay.
Still, rallies to celebrate the victory will be held in West Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles this evening.
Dr. Joel Kushner, director of the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, will appear as part of an interfaith panel about homosexuality and religion following the West Hollywood rally.
Kushner works with other interfaith organizations to change attitudes in religious communities.
“Political campaigns like to paint things in black and white, when reality isn’t like that, especially among religious people,” he said, pointing out that there is great diversity of opinion on this matter, even among traditional religious groups. “Often times I find that when religious people understand an issue they come down in support of justice. Not when they’re told lies, or told to operate out of fear, but when you sit down with someone and it becomes real to them.”
Kushner would like to see Jews take a more proactive stand on marriage equality and gay issues.
“Many Jews see themselves as progressive and liberal, and they think ‘I’m supportive.’ And they think they don’t have to do anything else, but each of us has a duty to act. We can’t repair the world unless we take action. We think someone else will do it, but these issues affect all of us,” Kushner said.
Recently, a group of about 150 Orthodox rabbis signed a progressive statement regarding gays , for the first time formally acknowledging that sexual orientation may not be a matter of choice, and that the community must treat gays with dignity and respect, welcoming them into a mitzvah-observant setting. It states that gays should not be forced to marry people of the opposite gender, and that “change therapies” should not be employed. (See Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky’s take on Morethodoxy.)
While it also states that the Torah prohibits same-gender sex and that same-sex commitment ceremonies will not be sanctioned, Kushner sees even such qualified statements as major progress.
“I think in their context and in their world, this is huge for families and youth, which is what is most important to me. Someone who is gay and 15 in the Orthodox community can now hear this and think, ‘I can still be in the community. I don’t have to leave, my family doesn’t have to excommunicate me, and I can still be here.”
Kushner notes that just 40 years ago, much of the Reform community was against including Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC), the first gay and lesbian congregation, in its ranks. Change is slow, he said, but first steps are important.
BCC’s Rabbi Lisa Edwards welcomed the affirmation of Walker’s decision.
“Two steps forward, one step back is still one step forward. Today’s ruling is one big step forward as Federal Judge Vaughn Walker ruled on what so many American Jews have understood for years already: The United States constitution was created to give and protect rights, not take them away,” Edwards said.
“The 44 gay and lesbian couples at whose weddings I officiated in 2008, as well as my wife and I, know on a daily basis what Judge Walker ruled today: The civil right to marry belongs to everyone. Fairness, dignity, equality – today we move one step closer, though the long walk continues, toward achieving what we long for – the opportunity to create families, recognized and appreciated by the society in which we live.”
The Anti-Defamation League also lauded the ruling.
“Today’s decision is a ringing reaffirmation of the right of same-sex couples to enjoy the fundamental right to marry. We are gratified that the court has recognized that there is no basis for “singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license,” and that such discrimination is unconstitutional,” read an ADL statement. “ADL stands committed to the principle of equal treatment for same-sex couples. With this ruling, California can once again proudly demonstrate leadership in this fight for individual liberty and freedom from discrimination for all.”