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Asian Americans Applaud Gay Marriage

Pacific Citizen, News Report, Staff Posted: May 29, 2008

Editor's Note: The community that has historically suffered from marriage discrimination sees parallels in today's struggle for equal rights.

SAN FRANCISCO-Sixty years after California made it legal for interracial couples to marry, the state Supreme Court once again made history May 15 by extending legal marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Proponents say the historic 4-3 decision positively affects thousands of Asian Pacific American families and their children. According to a study by the University of California, Los Angeles' Williams Institute, California is home to the largest number of same-sex APA partners.

In February 2004, thousands of same-sex couples lined up outside San Francisco City Hall to get married. The Supreme Court nullified these marriages because they were performed in defiance of state law. Since then, cases challenging the constitutionality of the state's marriage statutes have set the stage for the historic decision, In re Marriage Cases, S147999.

"Today, I am proud to be a Californian," said Deanna Kitamura, co-chair of API Equality-Los Angeles, in a statement issued shortly after the Supreme Court handed down its ruling. "The California Supreme Court clearly recognized every Californian's right to marry the person of his or her choice and now every person has the ability to realize their hopes and dreams."

The legal history of marriage rights has changed in the Golden State before. In 1948 the California Supreme Court ruled in Perez v. Sharp that the state's anti-miscegenation law was unconstitutional. That decision set the stage for Loving v. Virginia in 1967 when the nation's highest court struck down similar anti-miscegenation laws in more than a dozen states.

William M. Marutani, a civil rights advocate and the first APA judge outside the West Coast, argued the cause in the Loving case for the JACL by special leave of the court. Marutani passed away in 2004 and Mildred Loving, a plaintiff in the landmark civil rights case, recently passed away May 2 at the age of 68.

But their civil rights legacy lives on.

Last September, a broad coalition of over 60 APA organizations - including the JACL - filed a groundbreaking amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in the Marriage Cases. The coalition supported basic fairness for same-sex couples and their families because of the APA community's own historic struggles with marriage discrimination.

"The JACL applauds the California Supreme Court decision, which supports the long standing position of our organization. Japanese Americans understand the disruption of discriminatory marriage laws that targeted ethnic minorities even to the 1950s, and this court's decision brings equal treatment under the law to people who continue to be targets of discrimination," said Floyd Mori, JACL national director.

The California Supreme Court's well-reasoned decision puts to rest many of the arguments against same-sex marriage as were raised against interracial marriage, said J Craig Fong, a Los Angeles attorney and gay rights advocate.

"That somehow a controversial marriage jeopardizes other people's marriages. That somehow the institution of marriage will break down if couples are allowed to define their own families," said Fong, who also points out that the California Supreme Court clearly stated, "permitting same-sex couples access to the designation of marriage will not deprive opposite-sex couples of any rights."
But many say the court's ruling legalizing gay marriage in the state will not be the last word.

California voters will almost certainly hold a referendum on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in November, and for the first time anywhere in the United States, the vote will have a direct and immediate effect on gay couples waiting to tie the knot.

The amendment needs a simple majority to pass, and if the voters reject gay marriage, their decision will supersede the high court's ruling that made California the second state to legalize gay marriage, behind Massachusetts.

Although California has a history of being on the vanguard of gay rights, California residents have polled slightly against same-sex rights in recent years. The most recent polls, conducted in 2006 and 2007, found that 51 percent and 49 percent of survey respondents opposed making gay marriage legal, while 43 percent and 45 percent endorsed the idea.

Those numbers have remained virtually unchanged since former Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation in 2003 giving registered domestic partners the same rights and benefits as married spouses and since same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts in 2004, according to Charles Gossett, a Cal State Pomona political scientist. A handful of other states offer civil unions and domestic partnerships similar to marriage.

Proponents of the November marriage initiative think the court's 4-3 ruling will hit closer to home and galvanize moderate voters who do not mind gay couples entering into domestic partnerships, but want marriage reserved for a man and a woman.

"You may find even increased support from 2000," when an anti-gay marriage referendum passed easily, said Andrew Pugno of the California Marriage Protection Act campaign. "With this court decision, the need for the marriage amendment is brought into clearer focus."

The secretary of state still must verify the initiative, a decision expected next month.

Related Articles:

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Proud to be Californian: Now You can Marry Whomever You Want

No Gays in Iran But Many Same-Sex Couples

Beijing's 'Lala' Scene -- A Chinese Lesbian Speaks Out

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