Local News

Wednesday, Jun 26 2013 09:04 AM

Court rulings greeted with joy, fear in Kern

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    During a rally Wednesday evening after the United States Supreme Court ruling on Prop 8 and DOMA, Diane Schuetz, and many others participated on Stockdale Highway. Schuetz, said, "I love living in the United States because it's a great country, we can agree to disagree, but the constitution was written for a reason, to protect all people."

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Whitney Weddell, right, chairperson of the Bakersfield LGBTQ hugs a friend Wednesday evening on Stockdale Highway during a rally celebrating after the United States Supreme Court struck down a law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman only, in a landmark ruling.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Dozens celebrate Wednesday evening along Stockdale Highway after the United States Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, Wednesday.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Kristina Straw, right, holds two rally signs and says she is very happy with the ruling and her husband is equally happy. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, Wednesday. The top sign says equality for everyone and the bottom one reads straight, but not narrow.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Whitney Weddell, left, Chair of the Bakersfield LGBTQ gets a hug by Audrey Chavez after today's U.S. Supreme Court decision concerning gay marriage. Chavez is collecting funds today for Bakersfield LGBTQ at Martin's Meat Market.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Audrey Chavez collects funds today for Bakersfield LGBTQ at Martin's Meat Market after today's U.S. Supreme Court decision concerning gay marriage.

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    By AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

    Michael Knaapen, left, and his husband John Becker, right, embrace outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, June 26, 2013, after the court cleared the way for same-sex marriage in California by holding that defenders of California's gay marriage ban did not have the right to appeal lower court rulings striking down the ban.

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BY JAMES BURGER AND COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writers jburger@bakersfield.com; cedelhart@bakersfield.com

Dustin Peterson had trouble getting to his job as a sign-language interpreter Wednesday, thanks to the Supreme Court.

“I literally walked out the door with the (TV) remote in my hand because I had to run to the car so I could listen to it on the radio,” he said.

Related Info

Governor Brown's statement on Proposition 8

SACRAMENTO -- Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today issued the following statement on the United States Supreme Court ruling on Proposition 8 (Hollingsworth v. Perry):

"After years of struggle, the U.S. Supreme Court today has made same-sex marriage a reality in California. In light of the decision, I have directed the California Department of Public Health to advise the state's counties that they must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in California as soon as the Ninth Circuit confirms the stay is lifted," said Governor Brown.

The effect of today's U.S. Supreme Court ruling is that the 2010 federal district court's decision that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional is left intact and the law cannot be enforced.

In response, the Governor has directed the California Department of Public Health to advise county officials today that the district court's injunction against Proposition 8 applies statewide and that all county clerks and county registrar/recorders must comply with it. However, same-sex Californians will not be able to marry until the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals confirms the stay of the injunction, which has been in place throughout the appeals process, is lifted.

In preparation for this outcome, Governor Brown sought an opinion from California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris on whether the state, through the California Department of Public Health, can advise county clerks and registrar/recorders that they are bound by the federal district court's ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

The Attorney General concluded that the California Department of Public Health "can and should" instruct county officials that they "must resume issuing marriage licenses to and recording the marriages of same-sex" couples. The Department will issue another letter to county officials as soon as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals confirms the stay is lifted.

Peterson plans to become Dustin Marquez now that the high court has overturned — on standing — the Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage in California. Wednesday’s ruling was on Hollingsworth v. Perry, a case initially brought by former Bakersfield resident Kristin Perry and her partner, Sandra Stier.

Peterson and his partner, Steven Marquez, plan to marry on the first day marriages become legal in the state. The Supreme Court decision changed, in minutes, how the two feel about their place in the world.

“For us it feels like we’re no longer second-class citizens,” Peterson said.

The couple gos to friends’ weddings all the time and love seeing the joy those people are able to publicly share. Peterson and Marquez had a celebration when they got their domestic partnership through the California Secretary of State’s office.

“That doesn’t cut it. We didn’t feel the same excitement that other couples have when they get married,” he said.

FRAYED FABRIC

Local supporters of traditional marriage called the Supreme Court decision a blow to constitutional government and the nation’s structural core.

“I think today this issue went from being about the fabric of our society — family or marriage — to being an issue of the fabric of our government,” said Bakersfield resident Josiah Vencel.

California Supreme Court Judge Vaughn Walker overturned the will of 7 million voters, he said, and the U.S. Supreme Court  punted the tough decision presented to it.

“That should strike fear in the heart of any believer in constitutional government,” Vencel said. “Now the judiciary has more power — more say — than the people; who should be making laws.”

Vencel said he worries that the California Legislature will use the decision to “promote the homosexual union as equal to traditional marriage,” encourage teaching about same-sex marriage in schools and pressure religious organizations to marry gay and lesbian couples.

“The fabric of government is fraying at the seams,” Vencel said.

Ken Mettler, who led the effort to pass Proposition 8 in Kern County, had the same fears.

“Justices, all of them, live in an ivory tower — not the real world,” Mettler said.

The Supreme Court effectively rewarded former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and current Gov. Jerry Brown for abandoning their constitutional duty to defend Proposition 8 in court, he said.

“People have gotten used to government abusing its power. I fear for our county,” Mettler said.

Where will the battle between same-sex marriage supporters and traditional marriage supporters in California go now?

“I would say it’s probably — that’s probably the end of the road,” Mettler said. “When the game is rigged, it is rigged. It is very frustrating in that people put so much work into protecting natural marriage.”

MARRIAGES

Brown issued a statement Wednesday saying marriage licenses will again be issued to same-sex couples once the legal paperwork associated with the Supreme Court sending the case back to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is cleared up.

Kern County Auditor-Controller-County Clerk Mary Bedard said her office will begin issuing the licenses when it becomes legal to do so.

No special preparations will be needed. Marriage license forms were changed in 2008 to accommodate same-sex marriages, she said, and are ready to go.

"We're waiting, like all the other counties, on the 9th Circuit," Bedard said. "Once they act, we'll implement it."

She said the county clerk's office does not plan to begin performing civil marriages again. There is no longer staffing to conduct the ceremonies and they are not economically beneficial to the county, Bedard said.

Her predecessor, Ann Barnett, abruptly terminated the office’s practice of conducting civil marriage ceremonies — for both same-sex and heterosexual couples — in 2008, just before gay marriage became briefly legal in California.

Barnett said the decision was made to reduce costs. But a Californian analysis found and a county report confirmed that the practice actually made a profit for the county.

Barnett, a devout Christian, attempted to give up control of the county clerk's duties before terminating the civil marriages against the advice of the Kern County Counsel's office, which told her it could trigger a civil rights lawsuit against the county.

Barnett then appealed to a conservative Christian legal firm, which fought against gay marriage, to defend her against any potential lawsuit.
No lawsuit was ever filed.

OTHER RIGHTS

Wednesday’s court decisions also made a big impact on same-sex couples married during the short time in 2008 when same-sex unions were legal in California.

In addition to turning away the Proposition 8 challenge, the Supreme Court also ruled that the federal Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, clearing the way for the federal government to recognize the status of same-sex marriages.

Karen and Kathi Briefer-Gose were married in 2008.

Karen, 50, is an employee of the county of Kern whose health benefits cover her disabled wife, but there were other benefits of marriage they did not enjoy.

Now that DOMA has been struck down, those health benefits will no longer be subject to federal taxes, reducing the couple's taxable income by $5,585 a year.

Also, they'll be able to file two joint tax returns — state and federal — instead of filing a total of four individually. Survivor benefits will be affected, too.

"I can't even say how much all the discrimination was costing us because I don't even know how many ways we were being treated differently, and we haven't had to deal with survivor benefits or any of those events, but just on the health benefits taxes alone, that will have an immediate impact on us," Karen said. "I mean, who wouldn't want to reduce their taxable income by $5,600 bucks a year?"

But Bakersfield LGTBQ leader Whitney Weddell said the fight for same-sex equality is not over until the stay on marriages is lifted.

“We’re not having weddings yet and until weddings start, Prop. 8 is still around,” she said.

 

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