Saturday, May 30, 2009

Disability advocates in San Diego join gay activists to support marriage

From part of the story in Zenger's Magazine:

Over 70 marriage equality activists occupied the office of the San Diego County Clerk May 27, as a protest against the California Supreme Court’s ruling that Proposition 8, which restricts marriage in California to one man and one woman, is constitutional.

Michael Anderson and Brian Baumgardner led the action by demanding a marriage license, and other Queer couples followed suit. The event ended peacefully, with no arrests, when the crowd dispersed an hour after the official closing time of the building.

Anderson and his partner of eight years, Brian Baumgartner, made themselves the focal point of San Diego’s latest protest against the passage of Proposition 8, which banned marriage between same-sex couples in California, and the May 26 decision of the California Supreme Court upholding the measure. They agreed to be the first couple to go to the clerk’s office and demand a marriage license, then sit down and refuse to leave the office after they were denied one. Other Gay and Lesbian couples, individuals (including at least two who were already legally married to same-sex partners in California during last year’s 4 1/2-month window of opportunity) and non-Queer allies joined in.

At the height of the action, over 70 people crowded into the waiting area inside the clerk’s office. According to Lisa Kove, strategic planning chair for the San Diego Equality Campaign, one of the organizations sponsoring the action, County fire marshals said there were too many people in the room for safety; and Kove, agreeing with them, did not contest it when they ordered some of the people to leave. The protesters had said throughout the day that they would not leave the building when it closed, and would accept being arrested in classic civil-disobedience fashion. In the end, however, no one was arrested and the building was cleared by 6 p.m., an hour after its usual closing time.

While the sit-in was going on inside the county clerk’s office, a parallel demonstration was going on outside the building on the Pacific Highway side which featured an open mike so people could express their feelings about Proposition 8 and the court decision upholding it. Kove, marriage equality activist Sara Beth Brooks and former San Diego City Council candidate Stephen Whitburn took turns MC’ing the event, sometimes going into the building and returning to report on the goings-on inside the clerk’s office. Gradually, however, the crowd outside dwindled down to about 12 people as the focus shifted indoors.

“Until the 1940’s, it was illegal for disabled people to get married,” recalled Linda Kwizdak (pictured) of San Diego Blind Community Services. “People were fearful of disabled people, and now they are very fearful of homosexuals. … I’ve had a lot of arguments with people who voted for Proposition 8 who say that homosexuality is a ‘choice.’ It’s not a choice to be what you are; it’s only a choice to express what you are.”

Kwizdak’s point was echoed by a woman in a wheelchair who spoke to the group inside the clerk’s office and said that her parents had had to fight for her right to attend normal schools instead of being shunted off to separate schools for people with disabilities.

A young man named Gibran Martinez showed up with a piece of duct tape across his mouth and, when it was his turn to speak, removed it from his lips but continued to let it dangle from his left cheek. “I came out seven months ago, and it’s very hard for me to come out to my family,” he said. “I was born and raised in Costa Rica, in a heavily Catholic, military family. Even though we have justices in place to rule over us, no one can judge me. No one can judge us.”