ST: California bans gay marriage (Nov 6)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

LOS ANGELES - THOUSANDS of gay rights supporters took to the streets of Hollywood late on Wednesday outraged that California had voted to ban same-sex marriages.

The historic presidential win of Mr Barack Obama, who promises to be far more socially liberal than his predecessor, was therefore a bitter-sweet moment for California's gay community as a simultaneous referendum went against them.

Voters approved the constitutional amendment by a margin of 52.5 to 47.5 per cent, according to near complete results.

Known as 'Proposition 8,' the proposal was trumpeted by conservative groups as the people's way of overturning the legalization of gay marriage back in May.

For the gay community, however, it was a bitter pill to swallow.

Angry crowds thronged the streets in central West Hollywood, the heart of Los Angeles' gay community, chanting slogans and waving signs.

'Stop the hate in 2008!' went one chant. 'Keep religion out of my Constitution!' was another.

Protestor Jason Louis wrote the words 'I am a victim of H-8' (H for Hate) on his bare chest.

The referendum circumvents a California Supreme Court ruling in May that legalizes gay marriage by amending the state constitution to add the phrase, 'Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognised in California.'

The court's May ruling overturned an earlier plebiscite in 2000, when 61 per cent of voters agreed marriage should be defined as only being between a man and a woman.

Fearing that Proposition 8 could be approved, thousands of same-sex couples rushed to tie the knot since Jun, and especially in the last days.

The ruling now leaves thousands of gay couples in a legal limbo.

Those couples include some celebrity marriages such as comedienne Ellen DeGeneres who wed her long-time girlfriend Portia de Rossi in Aug.

'I feel anger, I feel frustration,' Mr Louis, 34, told AFP. 'I just got married last Sunday, we did it two days before the Election Day because I knew that Yes on Prop 8 it could win. Now we don't know what is going to happen, but for sure it will be a long, long legal battle.'

Police said at least 2,000 people gathered for the march, but the crowd continued to swell after that estimate. Protestors included families with children and clerics from progressive churches.

A lesbian couple planned to file a new suit to prevent Proposition 8 from being implemented.

'The new lawsuit will contain a new and controversial legal argument as to why Prop 8 is unconstitutional,' said their attorney Gloria Allred said.

Japanese-American actor George Takei, who played Mr Sulu in the long-running series 'Star Trek' and who married his longtime partner Brad Altman in Sept, said his marriage would remain valid no matter what.

'There's nothing in the language of Proposition 8 that says it's retroactive, so our marriage is going to be valid,' he told a local TV channel.

'But what we're concerned about is the young people of the future.

'Proposition 8 will eliminate in the constitution of the state their options of really being who they want to be.'

Takei and Altman were the first couple to receive a marriage license in West Hollywood when California began issuing them to gay couples on Jun 17.

Hollywood stars including Brad Pitt and Steven Spielberg as well as multinational companies such as Apple campaigned against the ban, with donations of up to US$100,000 (S$148,343).

But supporters unleashed a flood of hard-hitting ads especially targeting the Hispanic community and its traditional Christian and family values.

The Los Angeles Times reported some 18,000 same-sex couples married in the past four and a half months.

Arizona and Florida also passed similar referendums by large margins on Tuesday, stating that marriage was the legal union between a man and a woman.

The largest was in Florida where 62 per cent of voters approved the measure compared to 38 per cent against.

In Arkansas, voters approved a ban on couples who live together without being married, whether gay or straight, from adopting or fostering children. -- AFP