“Will you marry me?” asks Danny Della Lana. “For the third time?”
“Sure,” says Steve Hall, somewhat distractedly. He looks up from the Sloppy Joes he’s making for dinner and kindly but firmly tells their 8-year-old son to take the chicken he has brought inside back outside. “Quick,” Hall says, “before she poops on your sweatshirt.”
The closing arguments for Perry v. Schwarzenegger begin today. If Judge Vaughn Walker rules that Prop. 8 is unconstitutional, he is free to either order the state to start issuing marriage licenses immediately, or delay his ruling from going into effect until after any appeals are exhausted, according to Christopher Stoll, senior staff attorney with the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
The first time Hall and Della Lana wed was 10 years ago, in Hawaii, with nobody to witness but a hula dancer and a hungover ukelele player. That one wasn’t legal.
The second time was at City Hall, on February 14, 2004. “We got married in such a big hurry because we were worried if we waited, we wouldn’t be able to,” says Della Lana. “We hadn’t shaved. We hadn’t showered. We were smelly.”
It was still romantic. The two cut in line in order to get married at the same time as some close friends. Then they felt guilty and bought cookies for the people still in line.
That marriage was legal. Then it was annulled by the California Supreme Court. The refund for the marriage license arrived in the mail. Della Lana and Hall signed it over to an organization working to legalize gay marriage.
In its decision to step in and stop the marriages in 2004, the California Supreme Court had left itself open to a lawsuit, and that’s exactly what happened. The lawsuit, filed by the city of San Francisco and several of the couples whose marriages had been annulled, went to the Superior Court, the Appellate Court, and finally the Supreme Court. Just over four years later, on May 15, 2008, the Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that California’s existing statutes limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples were unconstitutional. On June 16, the weddings began once again.
This time, Della Lana and Hall waited. They’d already been married twice. This time, they wanted their families to be there. “I was so proud to be a Californian,” Hall says. “I took the little flag off my kid’s bike and put a California flag on instead.”
“We wanted to get married at home,” says Della Lana.
“In the garden,” says Hall.
“With a buffet. And some liquor,” says Della Lana. “That’s all you need, really.”
They waited too long. On November 4, 2008, Prop. 8 passed. This time the marriages weren’t annulled. The 18,000 couples that managed to get married in the window between June 16 and November 5 remain legally married. But no new marriage licenses can be granted. Until now. Maybe.
Even if Walker rules that the state should begin issuing marriage licenses again, those marriages will only be binding at the state level. Which is why Dipti Ghosh, another Mission resident, will still be waiting. “It’s my own tiny protest,” she says. “I have too many friends who have relationships that are threatened by immigration law.”
Until marriage equality happens at the federal level, a marriage between a same-sex couple won’t have the power to alter immigration status. Ghosh’s partner of 16 years got a green card five years into their relationship, but Ghosh says transcontinental relationships are not unusual, especially post 9-11. “Visiting the United States takes a certain feat of determination and persistence. And so usually the person who lives in San Francisco does the traveling. Thousands of dollars spent on plane tickets. At least there’s Skype.”
Like Della Lana and Hall, Ghosh and her partner have taken the time to set up a legal trust that gives them approximately the same rights and responsibilities that would normally be granted with a marriage license. Setting one up costs about $3,000-$4,000 in legal fees, but it also means that marriage, when it does come, won’t be a substantially different legal arrangement than they have already–just a lot less expensive.
Ghosh isn’t entirely sure if she’ll get married even if the United States Supreme Court deems it legal. When people began getting married again in 2008, Ghosh says, “My girlfriend called and said, ‘So? Do you want to?’ And I said, ‘You’re proposing to me over the phone?‘
“Will I do it? I don’t know. But I still want the right. And the choice.”
Hall and Della Lana are also determined not to rush into what, for them, would be the third time around. Both of them work at businesses that provide domestic partner benefits. When they adopted a son, they were each able to take family leave. Legally, they’re about as married as two people can get, minus the actual word.
“Once it was urgent to me,” says Della Lana. “Now I know that we’re going to be together until one of us dies.”
“We’re in no big hurry,” says Hall. “We can wait…” He pauses.
“…until it sticks,” Della Lana says, firmly.
Even here in California, we, same-gendered couples that were lucky enough to get legally married before Prop8 were only granted roughly 300 State rights of the over 1400 total rights that are afforded with legal civil marriage. There are 1138 Federal rights that are granted along with the 300 State rights, if you are lucky enough to be an opposite gendered married couple. There’s a big number difference there.
Domestic partnership is a State institution that carries with it the 300 State rights and none of the 1138 Federal rights. Again, there is a big number difference.
David. You’re right – marriage is a fundamentally different and complicated piece of contract law. There are definitely ways that you can get close to it, especially here in California, but good point about the ruling.
Great piece, but sorry you’re wrong when you say that “… it also means that marriage, when it does come, won’t be a substantially different legal arrangement than they have already–just a lot less expensive.” No, the CA Supreme Court, in their original finding that opened the door for same sex marriage, was very clear that “marriage” is a sufficiently different legal situation than any domestic partnership or home-grown legal arrangement. Marriage gives you different rights and freedoms than domestic partnership.
I am one of the fortunate 18 thousand couples in California to be legally married. However, this fight is not over for me or for my wife.
This puts us in the unique position of being a minority withing a minority and not a comfortable place to be in at times.
Our friends standing beside us on our wedding day are having a commitment ceremony next weekend because they can’t legally share what my wife and I have. This fight is not over until every one of my sisters and brothers have the freedom and right to marry.