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SPENCER MICHELS: Dennis Edelman and Mark Minardi are on the verge of making their relationship official in a ceremony, not a marriage, at San Francisco City Hall. In this city, they and other gay couples have rights not granted in most other places. Since 1991, they have been able to register as domestic partners. They have visitation rights in hospitals if either is sick. Gays who work for the city are eligible for bereavement leave if their partner dies.
SPOKESPERSON: Marc E. Minardi and Dennis Q. Edelman.
SPENCER MICHELS: But recently, Edelman and Minardi got something else, a chance with nearly 200 other gay and Lesbian couples to have a symbolic wedding.
SPOKESPERSON: Dennis and Mark–conclude their short engagement of 30 years together.
SPENCER MICHELS: Same-sex marriages are illegal throughout the United States. In fact, the California legislature currently is debating a measure to ensure the state will not recognize any gay marriages performed anywhere, but in San Francisco, for $30, any gay couple can now have an official ceremony. Edelman and Minardi, who have been together for 30 years, were delighted that the city gave them this chance.
DENNIS EDELMAN: So it’s a small step beyond domestic partnership. It’s not the whole mile of providing heterosexual or marriage certificate, as heterosexuals would have. That’s how I understand it. It’s a very wonderful step. It’s a small step, and that I’m really delighted to take it.
MARC MINARDI: We’ve been in a relationship for a long time, and our relationship is accepted by all of those who accept us, but it’s important because there are political dimensions to recognizing gay relationships that it’s about time that we consider.
SPENCER MICHELS: Those political dimensions were very much on the mind of Carole Migden when as a city supervisor she organized this mass ceremony. She wanted to put pressure on the state legislature to which she has recently been elected.
CAROLE MIGDEN, California Assemblywoman: It’s an act of defiance because here we believe in alternative relationships and loving, committed relationships. It’s a way of supporting our domestic partnership and send a message. We’re not here to stamp or ban gay marriages but to affirm people that are committed to stable, loving, enduring relationships.
SPOKESMAN: I will not by voting on this floor of this legislature ratify certain kinds of practices that I think are wrong.
SPENCER MICHELS: California is one of thirty-two states that considered strengthening laws against gay marriages. So far, five have passed such laws, fifteen have rejected them. The bills say that if another state legalizes those marriages, they won’t be recognized elsewhere. The concern stems from a Hawaiian court case that may legalize gay marriages. That case started as a lawsuit by three gay couples who claimed the denial of marriage licenses by Hawaii was an act of sexual discrimination against them. Although Hawaiian couples of the same sex can live together and go through whatever celebrations they want, they thus far cannot marry. They are not eligible for the normal benefits that married couples enjoy, such as health insurance, joint income tax returns, child custody, and automatic inheritance. That constitutes discrimination, according to Matt Coles of the American Civil Liberties Union. He filed a friend of the court brief.
MATT COLES, American Civil Liberties Union: Once you create such an enormously important legal structure and say you only count, you’re only next of kin, if you’re married. Then it’s discrimination to say to a whole category of people we won’t let you get married even if you want to. We’re not only going to keep you out of the symbolic institution, we’re going to keep you out of this practical legal structure. That’s what we say is wrong.
SPENCER MICHELS: The Hawaiian Supreme Court has ordered the state to prove that there is a compelling state interest in prohibiting same-sex marriages. If the state cannot prove that, then this couple, who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit, will win their case, and gay marriages will be legal. The court action set off intense debate in Hawaii, but the legislature recently killed all bills to outlaw same-sex marriage, so it appears that if the Supreme Court rules to allow those marriages, that ruling will stand. Demonstrations have grown heated and attracted the attention of mainland activists like Randall Terry of Operation Rescue.
RANDALL TERRY, Operation Rescue: Well, there are people who will tell you this is a Hawaiian issue. No, it’s not. It’s an American issue because the Constitution will require that we on the mainland have to honor these godless homosexual unions in all fifty states. We will never honor them. And, and Hawaii needs to not become the Sodom and Gomorrah of America. I don’t believe the people of Hawaii want that.
SPENCER MICHELS: Back on the mainland, legislators in California and elsewhere are being warned by conservative lobbyists to take some action soon. The U.S. Constitution mandates that public acts by one state must be recognized by all. Some lawmakers are now looking for a way to exempt gay marriage from that provision. Lobbyist Randy Thomassen is alive with Forum on the Family.
RANDY THOMASSEN, Capitol Resource Institute: Here in California, we can imagine quite easily homosexual couples taking a trip to Honolulu, getting married, and then coming back here to the golden state saying recognize us, by the way, change your laws to teach our curriculum to children, and the taxpayers have got to support our lifestyle.
SPENCER MICHELS: A Southern California Christian group called The Report has produced this video, the ultimate target of the gay agenda, same-sex marriage. Thousands of copies have been sent to church members and legislators.
SPOKESMAN: When you can crack marriage and completely destroy the definition of it, you’ve just overturned all of society’s moral structure.
SPENCER MICHELS: These groups look to Republican legislators like California assemblyman Pete Knight to fight gay marriages. He is sponsoring the bill, which has passed the assembly, which would keep California from recognizing them.
WILLIAM “PETE” KNIGHT, California Assemblyman: That’s a significant departure from the basic family unit that we have been the center of society for thousands of years. It changes the concept, really, of marriage, and I think that’s something that needs–the people need to understand and the people have to understand that that is being forced on them.
SPENCER MICHELS: With Democrats controlling the state senate, Knight’s bill may never emerge from committee in this chamber. Sen. President Bill Lockyer says he considers the bill unnecessary and, therefore, more symbolic than substantive.
BILL LOCKYER, State Senate President: It’s not serious in the sense of there’s no current need for a law of this sort. Umm, it is serious in the sense that it provokes political passions and anxieties on both sides of the debate, and it’s symbolically very important. My own sort of personal view is this–I’m not an advocate for any particular lifestyle, but it seems to me if people find happiness somehow in this crazy American society, we ought to let ‘em be happy and, and not have government trying to prohibit and prevent that.
SPENCER MICHELS: For Dennis Edelman and Marc Minardi, passage of a law prohibiting same-sex marriages would be a further indication of society’s intolerance of homosexuality, something they’ve been fighting a long time. They argued that gays contribute to society, they have good jobs and an active civic and social life and are entitled to the benefits of real marriage.
MARC MINARDI: We’re teachers, we’re in the military, we’re your brothers, we’re your sisters, we’re everywhere, and we’re part of society, and that, that is not going to go away.
SPOKESMAN: (ceremony) To be my lifetime partner, to love and cherish forever.
SPENCER MICHELS: San Francisco’s mayor and most other officials were enthusiastic participants at the mass ceremony that officially joined Edelman and Minardi. Whether celebrations like this become real marriages anytime soon may depend on the Hawaiian supreme court and the fallout from its decision in courts and legislatures across the country.