In the five years they have known each other, 18-year-old Sarah McIlvaine and Autumn Benson dated, committed to a long-term relationship and began to talk about living together, but now wonder if they will ever be allowed to actually get married.
This is because California has only recognized unions between a man and a woman, and voters reiterated this when they approved Proposition 22 in 2000. During the 2004 November elections, 11 states approved constitutional amendments limiting marriage to one man and one woman, making same-sex marriages illegal. This year, seven more states are proposing similar amendments.
Benson and McIlvaine, like many same-sex couples, hope that the laws will change and favor the “marginalized” gay community.
“I would really like to get married,” said Benson, who has been in a committed relationship with McIlvaine for 14 months. “That is something that I know I want to do.”
The couple said they believe the right to marry is a matter of civil rights and not special privileges.
“(Same-sex couples) just want the recognition,” Benson said. “We are not asking to take over straight people and not allow them to get married so that we can rule the world. We just want to have that same right, to marry.”
According to a Field Poll released in March, Californians strongly support civil rights for homosexuals, but do not support same-sex marriages.
McIlvaine said she often questions people who express support for gay rights and civil unions, but not for letting gays marry.
Fifty-one percent of the state’s residents disapprove of same-sex marriage while 43 percent approve of it, and the poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.2 percentage points. Percentages have remained unchanged from Field Polls conducted in 2003 and 2004, according to the report.
The Field Poll, conducted by telephone, surveyed 1,000 adults across the state, including 680 registered voters.
The poll indicates that people who are more likely to describe themselves as having positive feelings toward homosexuals are people who personally know others who are gay or lesbian; liberals; Democrats; those affiliated with non-Christian religions; residents of the San Francisco Bay Area; non-partisans; and people with a college degree or a post degree.
In 2004 the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that denying same-sex couples the right to marry was unconstitutional and allowed them to wed.
However, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, citing a 93-year-old law, ruled in March that same-sex couples from out of state are denied the right to marry in Massachusetts if their home state won’t recognize the nuptials.
Same-sex couples like McIlvaine and Benson remain optimistic partly because they have seen that the resistance to same-sex marriage is more common in older people.
Because things are getting “so much more conservative lately,” McIlvaine said, “I think that people in our generation are going to soon be in power and outnumber the conservatives and change the laws.”
Chris Chase, a marketing major, agrees. He said most of the people his age often ask why same-sex couples cannot get married, that they really don’t think it’s a big deal.
According to the poll, 35 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 39 don’t have a problem with same-sex marriage. Only 16 percent of adults 65 and older, however, do not have a problem with same sex marriage, while 44 percent of those believe that they should be granted no legal recognition.
In 2004, more than 2,500 same-sex couples said “I do,” after San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom authorized the city government to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
A month later, however, the California Supreme Court ordered San Francisco to stop granting licenses and revoked the ones already issued. Same-sex couples who married during that time and whose licenses were invalidated are currently filing lawsuits to reinstate the decision.
The marriage annulment came after San Francisco was asked to abide by the law and uphold the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
Proposition 22, passed by voters in 2000, also reinforced state law that refuses to recognize same-sex unions performed in other states.
Benson said she believes all of these amendments and bans aren’t really about gay marriage at all but rather about distraction meant to focus attention away from problems, including the war in Iraq, the deficit and all of the other problems that the Bush administration is facing.
“I think that there is that kind of desperate grasping in our country right now where because there are so many things out of our control at this point that it’s like ‘What can we control? We can control the gays, we can definitely limit their rights,’ ” she said.
Carol Morales can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.