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Lorri L. Jean

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A Historic Marriage Ruling

Posted: 02/ 7/2012 2:19 pm

We are one step closer to the day the freedom to marry will ring in California once again.

Today a three-judge panel of the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Justice Vaughn Walker's August 2010 ruling that found California's Prop 8 unconstitutional. (They also found that supporters of Prop 8 do have standing to defend the measure in court, and ruled against those who argued that Walker should have recused himself from the trial because he is gay.) This draws nearer the day when every American will be able to marry the person they love, regardless of gender -- and to have that important commitment recognized by the law of the land. Having that commitment honored is no small thing.

In 2008, before Prop 8 passed, I was finally able to marry the woman with whom I have now shared 20 years of my life. As I stood before a small group of family and friends, Gina's hand in mine, I pledged to take her as my lawfully wedded wife. As I vowed to love and to cherish, to honor and to comfort her, I was overcome by emotion.

Many other same-sex couples were finally able to wed that year, and I shared in their joy as well. But it was some time later that I heard perhaps the most deeply moving wedding story of all: the story of Alice, a senior (now 76) who had turned to my organization, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, for help.

Alice had been just as joyful about her wedding as I was, even though it was under very difficult circumstances. Alice and Sylvia, who had spent 43 years building a life together, exchanged vows in the ICU of the hospital just weeks before Sylvia died. She had been under hospital care for one and a half years. Not only was Alice devastated, but she faced a tremendous financial hardship, because she could not collect the Social Security benefits of her wife. And in this great state of California, that is who Sylvia was, legally as well as emotionally: Alice's wife. But in the eyes of the federal government, she was no one.

I wish that Alice and Sylvia could have married all those years ago when they first moved to California and decided that they would spend their lives supporting one another. And that during her time of greatest grief, Alice had not faced the fear that she would become homeless because she couldn't afford to stay in the apartment she shared with Sylvia.

And I wish my father could have walked me down the aisle. He so wanted us to be able to marry, but he died before the laws treated us fairly.

Of course, there are countless more who have missed the chance to celebrate their love by making this ultimate commitment to their partners. And countless more who hope with all their hearts that one day this will be possible for them.

I eagerly await the day when all our nation's people will have the freedom to marry, to celebrate their love with friends and family, and to know that every state as well as the federal government will recognize these commitments equally.

The journey is far from over, since this ruling will be appealed, but today's victory draws that day one important step closer.