03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Gay Marriage: From a Federal Case to a National Movement

It's been a groundbreaking week for same-sex couples in the quest to achieve marriage equality as the federal case against Proposition 8 (Perry v. Schwarzenegger) moves forward in the court of Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco.

In watching the case's progress, I've been thinking about what it means for our movement. The witnesses and the stories of Perry v. Schwarzenegger are telling us many things about the state of our work to restore the freedom to marry to California's same-sex couples, and to secure this freedom for couples across the nation.

Building Coalition with Other Minorities
We heard on Wednesday how Hak-Shing William Tam, an activist who helped to put Prop. 8 on the ballot, had sent a letter to members of Chinese-American church groups arguing that advocates for marriage for same-sex couples wanted to "legalize having sex with children." He also wrote that if California allowed all couples to marry, "other states would fall into Satan's hands."

Tam's claims are outrageous, of course. What won't our opponents say as they try to frighten people away from supporting marriage for all couples?

Tam's efforts didn't pay off as he had hoped they would. Statewide, fifty-two percent of Asian Americans, including many Chinese Americans, voted against Proposition 8. But Proposition 8 showed that we need to build even stronger coalitions with racial, ethnic and other minorities.

As Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and a board member of the Equality California Institute, pointed out on Pam's House Blend:

If a court determines that widespread (and unjustified) bias prevents a group from being able to fully protect itself in the elected branches of government, it is more likely to find that the group should be afforded heightened constitutional protection under the federal equal protection clause.

All minorities are protected through the same provisions under our Constitution. Our struggles for legal protection vary in the way they are conducted, and each must take its own shape. But under our government the mechanisms for protection are the same.

Our opposition will go to great lengths to convince other minority groups that our struggles have nothing in common. We have to respect and acknowledge the differences between the LGBT rights movement and other movements like the African-American civil rights movement, but we also must work together. It's critical for LGBT people and our movement to stand up for the rights of other minorities and to be a part of other social justice struggles. Here in California we are working hard with allies like the California NAACP, Chinese for Affirmative Action, the Equal Justice Society, and religious and civil leaders in many communities, supporting and championing their priorities and throwing our weight behind their efforts.

Telling Our Stories
In the federal courtroom on Monday, plaintiff Kristin Perry told the court that when you grow up as a lesbian, you tell yourself that marriage is one thing you cannot have. She told the court of her struggles from day to day in deciding whether to come out to sales people, store clerks and the people she meets as she is coaching her kids' soccer team.

The amazing legal team for our side has lined up a great set of expert witnesses, but none of them have touched me as much as these brave couples. Perry spoke from the heart, as did her wife Sandy Stier and the other plaintiff couple, Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo. They were so remarkable the defense team for Proposition 8 largely declined to cross-examine them. They did ask Katami to watch videos from the campaigns and then grilled him about his testimony that the 'Yes on 8' campaign's claims that children would be harmed if same-sex couples could marry was misleading and hurtful. Katami bravely stood his ground, telling the courtroom that these assertions were a diversionary tactic, and that Proposition 8 itself had nothing to do with children. He expressed just how painful those falsehoods were.

LGBT people and our allies know these feelings well. Now the court knows them, too. Perhaps this is a big part of the reason why the proponents of Prop. 8 were so opposed to allowing the proceedings to be televised. Perhaps they also see that, when people really understand our lives and our experiences, they come to support marriage equality and equal rights. That's why we have to keep telling our stories and helping others to understand why marriage and equal rights matter. If you live in California, please sign up to volunteer with EQCA's statewide field program and share your personal story with others.

Our Elected Leaders Must Act
When the anti-gay Briggs Initiative, which sought to ban gay people from becoming teachers, appeared on the California ballot in 1978, President Jimmy Carter, then Governor Jerry Brown and future president Ronald Reagan spoke out against the initiative. Today, California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown are telling the Court that Proposition 8 cannot be defended under the U.S. Constitution. Elected leaders of both major political parties have stood up for the freedom to marry.

Equality California is asking President Obama and his administration to file a brief asking the Court to rule that it is unconstitutional to allow a majority to take away the rights of a minority. The President promised on the campaign trail that he would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, and as a Senator he voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment. It seems clear that he can support a legal system shaped by principles of fairness and egalitarianism.

We are not just calling on President Obama to stand up for LGBT rights. We are also calling on elected leaders across California, too. The EQCA Political Action Committee is gearing up for a busy year with the gubernatorial election and other key races. We only endorse candidates who are 100 percent for LGBT equality. LGBT and allied voters elect leaders to represent our community's interests. We must choose carefully who we vote for, and once they are in office we must make it clear that we expect them to act.

If a conservative, famed attorney such as Ted Olson can stand before the court to argue on our behalf, taking months and years of his life to plead our case, surely our president can take a stand for fairness as well.

Please sign our petition and join us in asking President Obama to be the "fierce advocate" he promised us he would be.

I'm hopeful for the outcome of this case. The legal team on our side is presenting strong arguments and seems to have the momentum. They are adept and well-prepared, and in Ted Olson and David Boies we have the advocacy of two of the most brilliant legal minds in our country.

Still, we must keep working to build support for LGBT equality, including marriage and many other priorities, such as federal employment protection, access to culturally competent health care, and safe schools and safe communities where our youth can grow up. We can't just win in the courts. We have to win hearts and minds across California and the nation. Please, join us in our efforts.