In 2004, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom allowed same-sex couples to marry in his city. Between Feb. 12 and March 11 -- the day the state Supreme Court stopped the practice -- 4,037 same-sex couples got their marriage licenses in SF. Almost a dozen of those couples were from Humboldt County, and in June of that year, the North Coast Journal interviewed several of them ("For Love & Equality," June 3, 2004).
Much has happened since then. By August 2004, the marriage licenses that had been issued to same-sex couples in San Francisco were nullified. Then, in May 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that the right of same-sex couples to marry was protected by the California Constitution. That right was taken away in November of that year, after voters passed Proposition 8, a citizen's initiative that amended the Constitution to allow marriage only between a man and a woman. The roughly 18,000 legal same-sex marriages that had already taken place that year were allowed to stand. Now Prop. 8 has been overturned: Last Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker said Prop. 8 violated gays' and lesbians' rights to due process and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.
"The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples," Walker wrote.
That evening came the rejoicing. Outside the Humboldt County Courthouse, a crowd gathered to celebrate the judge's ruling; the whooping and yelling and honking could be heard halfway across town. Certainly, elsewhere, there must have been plenty of shocked grumbling among the 39.9 percent of Humboldtians who voted for Prop. 8, and among 7 million other Californians -- the 51 percent who voted for it. And, indeed, on Thursday the pro-Prop. 8 camp had filed its appeal with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The case likely is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. And that could mean the question of whether gays and lesbians have the constitutional right to wed may be settled for once and all, perhaps not just in California but in the country overall, the majority of whose states ban gay marriage.
We decided to check in with some of the people we'd interviewed in 2004 after their San Francisco-sanctioned weddings. How have they been weathering the past six years on this wild marry-go-round?
Camryn and Jamara Indigo were at Clam Beach last Wednesday on a dog adventure when Judge Walker's decision was announced, so they didn't hear about it until later. They own and operate The Indigo Dog House -- a homey sort of bed-and-breakfast for pooches while their owners are out of town. The Indigos also offer day outings -- "dog adventures" -- for dogs whose owners are at work. After the adventure last Wednesday, one of the dog owners who came by to pick up their dog said to them, "Congratulations, I heard the case was resolved."
"We were like, hey, OK, we hadn't checked," said Camryn, sitting with Jamara on their back porch last Friday, in Eureka. Their dog, Scout, tussled with a blue ball on the lawn, while the boarder dogs lounged comfortably about -- except for the sleek mini dachsund, who chirped and trilled poutily. "We knew the decision was due."
They just hadn't put their life on hold to wait for it.
"We're too busy!" said Jamara.
The Indigos started The Indigo Dog House five years ago, and it's taken off. Last October, Jamara, 46, left her job with FedEx/Kinkos in Arcata to work full time in the business. In a couple of months, Camryn, 49, who has worked a long time with Northcoast Children's Services, will do the same.
They're a typical modern couple, divvying up chores according to skills and/or time. Jamara does most of the cooking because "she's much better at it," said Camryn. "Although she makes a killer Chinese dish," added Jamara. Camryn does more of the repairs, and the bookkeeping. They've merged their finances and bought two cars and a house together. Their friends and family love and accept them -- except for Jamara's Baptist minister brother, who told them he loves them but hates their sin.
Between work, family, hobbies (like quilting, and dog advocacy) and friends (mostly straight, mostly met through work and hobbies), they've less time now for the marches on Washington, the women-only festivals and the gay marriage rights rallies that occupied their 20s and 30s.
"Yes, this has been an issue," said Jamara. "Yes, we've watched it in the news. And yes, when Prop. 8 passed, it was like, you've got to be kidding me. But to be honest, we're living our life."
That all said, by last Friday morning, both had read Walker's entire 136-page decision. They were delighted, they said, that the judge ruled the majority doesn't get to vote on the rights of the minority. They said the case proved that anything less than marriage is a separate accomodation and isn't a marriage.
The Indigos have been together for 22 years. In 1992 they legally took the same last name -- from the combination of purple, Camryn's favorite color, and blue, Jamara's favorite.
"The lawyer who helped us with our name change told us, 'This is the closest you're going to be able to get to being married,'" said Camryn.
After their 2004 San Francisco marriage was invalidated, they chose not to remarry in 2008 during the five months it was legal statewide.
"I was the one that said I'm not going to scramble around trying to get married again, when it might just be taken away again," said Jamara. "I mean, that was such a slap in the face. It was, congratulations, you're married, yes, yes -- no, we're taking it away. You're married, you're not married, you're married, you're not married -- I didn't want that."
Besides, neither a California marriage nor their domestic partnership would afford them the same rights, at least under federal law, that hetero-married couples have. For example, Jamara's married coworker at Kinkos enjoyed a tax-free subsidy to add his wife to his health insurance, whereas Jamara got a similar subsidy to add Camryn to her insurance but it was counted as income -- raising her into a higher income bracket -- and taxed. Also, as domestic partners, the Indigos each have to file as "single" with the federal government, but as "married" with the state of California. To file as "married" with the state, they have to dummy up a fake federal tax return to figure out what their taxes would be if they were married. They also don't enjoy the social security and property transfer tax benefits that married spouses do when one or the other dies. And next year, when they go on vacation to Florida, which doesn't recognize domestic partnerships, they'll have to bring the powers-of-attorney documents they've had drawn up for each other, so that if one ends up in the hospital there, the other can visit her.
"My friend who's married, she's going with us to Florida and she doesn't have to worry about that," said Jamara. "She can just say, 'Oh, we're married.'"
But even if domestic partners were to gain all of the federal rights of a hetero married couple, said Jamara, excluding gays and lesbians from marrying would still be discrimination.
"You're still telling a group of people you're not equal with your neighbor down the road who is heterosexual," she said. "You can't do something that they can. This is the United States of America; that's not OK. That's not American, that's not what we stand for."
Camryn added that it's a matter of civil marriage, not church marriage. "I don't want to force a church to marry me," she said.
The Indigos say they expect Walker's ruling will galvanize the anti-gay marriage people. Even so, said Camryn, she thinks the decision will hasten the time when gay marriage will be legal on the federal level.
"And I think it's going to happen in my lifetime," she said.
In the meantime, they're not in a rush for another California-only wedding.
"I know what I feel for Cam, and whatever the government says or doesn't say doesn't change how I feel," said Jamara. "It doesn't change how I live. Yes, we'd probably get married again once I know they're not going to yank it away. I want to wait until it's on the federal level, because I think it's kind of a cheap shot when you're basically only married in the state of California --"
"-- but you're not really married," finished Camryn.
"We want to wait for the whole cookie this time," Jamara said.
Bob Wick and Noah Schreier, who until this summer lived in McKinleyville, also were married -- and then de-married -- in 2004 in San Francisco. When the 2008 window opened for them to again get married, they did it, and became one of the 18,000 same-sex couples who legally are still married in California. They also, somewhere along the way, became registered domestic partners.
But ask either one of them the dates they got married or became legal domestic partners, and they struggle to remember.
"The anniversary we celebrate is the day we met, April 29, 1995," said Wick last Friday by phone from his office in Sacramento, where he has a new position with his long-time employer, the federal Bureau of Land Management. "I have trouble remembering our anniversary because we have so many. ... If I knew that one of these marriages was going to actually stick, I would make the effort to remember the date. But because they're so liquid, I only have so much space in my head for so many dates. I remember the date we met because that's what's most important."
Wick, 47, and Schreier, 52, have lived together since 1997. They built a house together on a hill overlooking the azalea reserve in McKinleyville. Wick's more into the outdoors. Schreier's more of the cook. Their families love them and accept them. They have a knack for resolving conflicts and say they feel blessed to have found each other. Wick said his coworkers and BLM employer in Arcata were great to him, and his new BLM coworkers as well seem wonderful. Schreier had a less-open experience, at least initially, in his work in Humboldt as an insurance auditor.
"When the North Coast Journal did this story the first time, I chose not to come out at that time, because I was just starting a new job," said Schreier, also by phone from Sacramento, last Saturday. "It's sad to me that, in the 21st century, I was still finding myself in a position where I was erring on the side of caution. Although I did indeed slowly over time come out to people at my job."
He said he never made his personal life an issue at work, believing that people of all views have to work together and that it wasn't right to proselytize in the workplace. But during the heated months leading up to the passage of Prop. 8, he said, he sometimes overheard coworkers saying how they were going to vote for Prop. 8.
"These were people who liked me, respected me, knew I was gay, and yet they were saying they would deny me my rights," he said. "It was sad how they couldn't see how their position hurt me. It was just a lack of awareness. They weren't bad people, they weren't mean people. And they weren't stupid people. They just had never put themself in a gay person's shoes."
Outside of work, while not in-your-face activists, Wick and Schreier did partake in some rallies against Prop. 8, including one by bicycle. "And that was hurtful, riding around McKinleyville and seeing 'Yes on 8' signs in certain houses," said Wick. "That did hurt -- you know, 'you're not worthy of marriage.' But I also saw a lot of 'No on 8' signs, and heard a lot of support."
Wick and Schreier said they want to be married for the reasons most people do.
"To me it's a legal recognition of a partnership that we already had cemented through our years of commitment," said Wick.
"The primary reason I wanted to get married was because I love Bob," said Schreier. "And I suppose it was a way to codify our relationship. It's an indication of the depth and the significance and the importance of our relationship. And it was also nice to do it in front of a group of our close friends, in order to get their support for our relationship. ... And it's interesting, after we actually had our wedding ceremony, the first one, it felt different. I felt even a closer level of commitment. It's different when you actually take a vow in the presence of your friends. And in our culture, marriage has a deeper cache than just a registered domestic partnership. We are married in each other's hearts. And so the opportunity to make it legal, we went for it of course. It was a deepening, a further strengthening."
Even so, neither one considers their marriage a "real" marriage, legally speaking, because it's not recognized federally. Wick said this holds specific ramifications for them financially, aside from the usual ones like no social security survivor benefits, multiple tax returns, etc. Wick, as a federal employee, is eligible to have his relocation costs fully paid for -- including closing costs on a new house, and per diem for the house search. If he had a wife and family, their costs would be covered too. But his husband's costs are not covered -- the government will only pay half of Wick and Schreier's relocation costs.
He's not complaining, he said. He doesn't blame his BLM employers, whom he said bent over backwards to get him his incredible and rewarding new position, as he puts it; they can't change the way the federal system works.
"And I appreciate being paid half the costs," Wick said. "It's a great benefit that a lot of people in the private sector don't get. I just wish there wasn't the disparity."
Wick said he also looks to the day when civil marriage is disentangled from church marriage, and that he doesn't want a church ever to feel forced to marry him if it doesn't want to. And both men said that whether the government recognizes their bond or not, ultimately that isn't what matters most.
"Our love transcends all of this," said Schreier. "We live, we laugh, we hurt, we love just like everybody else. There's a songwriter, Rufus Wainwright, and one of the lyrics in one of his songs is, 'Do you really think you'll go to hell because you have loved?' And to me that really sums it up. Regardless of whether we're recognized by the state or by the federal government, I know in my heart I'll always be married to Bob."