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Get Us to the Church on Time Gays Rush to Marry Before November

New America Media, News Feature, Andrew Lam Posted: Sep 11, 2008

Editor's Note: Worried that voters may revoke same-sex marriage rights in November, gay and lesbian couples in California are rushing to wed, reports NAM editor Andrew Lam. Lam is the author of "Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora."

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SAN FRANCISCO - A few nights before they got married, Jason Mehrtens, 33, and Alberto Andrade, 27, sat at their kitchen table drinking sake. Alberto's sister Danielle stood between them, arranging a bouquet of flowers. On the table, two wedding rings sat gleaming in their velour boxes.

It may be a picture of modern domestic bliss, Asian-style Alberto is fourth-generation Filipino American; Jason is Vietnamese, adopted as a baby but there's also prenuptial anxiety. They're sure they've found a soul mate in each other. What they're not sure about is whether same-sex marriage will survive the November election. Proposition 8, a proposed ban on same-sex marriage, is on California's general election ballot.

"Well, we are worried that voters might revoke same-sex marriage rights in November," Jason says. "If we marry now, our marriage will be legitimate no matter what."

In other words, better safe than sorry. Both have seen other gay couples get married in 2004 in San Francisco, only to see those marriages voided by the state Supreme Court. Mayor Gavin Newsom, going against state law, had granted full marriage rights to gay couples. The same court, however, on May 15, 2008, overturned the state's ban on same-sex marriage, declining to delay its decision until after the November election.

Proposition 8, or the Limit on Marriage Amendment or California Marriage Protection Act, is a constitutional amendment. Its proponents claim its victory would override the court's decision.

This time around, however, there's reason for Jason to be optimistic. A Public Policy Institute of California poll in August found that 54 percent of registered voters oppose ending gay marriage. A Field poll in July found that 51 percent of likely voters also opposed ending gay marriage. It's quite a change, considering a 1977 Field poll showed only 28 percent supported, while 59 percent opposed, gay marriage.

Still, like many gay couples around the state, Jason and Alberto are leaving nothing to chance. "We get married now but our real wedding will take place July fourth 2009. It won't be revoked even if they vote against gay marriage in November," says Alberto, who works in the kitchen of San Francisco's Foreign Cinema restaurant. The celebration will take time to prepare and guests will come from all over the state.

The Williams Institute at UCLA law school estimated that more than half of the state's 102,000 gay couples will wed in the next three years. Another 67,000 out-of-state couples are expected to travel to California to marry.

It has been a long struggle for Jason. He was among the orphans in the famous Operation Baby Lift at the end of the Vietnam War. A conservative Catholic couple from Long Island adopted him. He "came out" in high school. "I have a hearing problem, and I'm Asian in a predominantly white school. And I'm openly gay." Jason received death threat notes in his locker. "My parents kicked me out when they found out I was gay."

Jason went to University of California, Los Angeles and now works as an HIV counselor. It took 10 years to reconcile with his parents, he says. "Family is the core foundation of our relationship. It was difficult with my mother. We didn't make up until I moved out to California. She has come to a point now where she's willing to accept and love me for who I am."

Alberto, who grew up in Vallejo, Calif., had a relatively better time coming out. "My high school friends basically dragged me out of the closet. And no one seemed to care."

The two met online at downelink.net, a gay and lesbian social networking site with large membership of Asians. "It seems strange that Jason and I had a bunch of friends in common but we never met," Alberto says. "So I asked him out on a date. It took several tries before he agreed."

"It was when we were eating dessert. The dessert sold me," Jason says. "I was wary at first though 'cuz I was just coming out from a relationship and I was more careful." Experience, he says, helped his relationship with Alberto. "I've been around the block, been dating for a long time. I've had several boyfriends before him. With each boyfriend I learned a little bit more as a person. I grew as a person. I bring all that to my relationship with Al. Basically I took the best of each relationship to where I am now."

For Alberto, Jason is his first serious boyfriend. "I had relationships but nothing serious. Being with Jason was something completely different than anything else. I feel comfortable around him. I don't feel like I have to be someone else to be around him."

Danielle, 18, says she first realized that her brother was gay when her brother brought Jason home. "I thought it's pretty cool and awesome they're getting married. Jason's the first boyfriend he ever brought to see the family and he's it."

Jason and Alberto are now living with Danielle and Alberto's mother, Aya, in the Andrade family home, which has been in the family for four generations. "I can tell you some ghost stories if you want to hear," Alberto says, laughing.

Alberto's mother, Aya, is going through a divorce after 25 years of marriage. "Instead of falling in love, I chose security, and now my husband and I are separated."

Ava says she fully supports her son's decision to get married, and wishes "for them to go on to live a happy life. Alberto accepts Jason, so I accept Jason." Her husband, Alberto's father, still struggles with his son's marriage.

"He's still my son," Aya says. "It doesn't change his personality just because he chooses to marry a man instead of a woman." Then she points out the irony: "I married for security and here's two people marrying for love. I think their relationship is inspirational."

When he was an "unhappy teenager," Jason says he never imagined he would marry a man he loves and have a wedding. "Now it's just so incredible. Beyond my dreams. Getting married surrounded by friends and family."

"The world has really evolved," Alberto says. "There's a lot more acceptance of gay people. Homosexuality was once viewed as a mental illness. But now? I heard a comedian who said, 'Homosexuals are no different than anyone else, except they're from the future.'"

Article in Vietnamese: Những người đồng tnh vội v kết hn truớc thng Mưi Một

Related Articles:

Filipino Teen Activist Running for CA District Assembly

Chinese Media Changing Its Tune on Same Sex Marriage

Gay Couples Rejoice Over Supreme Court Ruling

Proud to be Californian

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