Gay rights advocate Vin Testa in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday. Justices issued two major rulings on gay marriage cases. (Associated Press)

Gay rights advocate Vin Testa in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday. Justices issued two major rulings on gay marriage cases. (Associated Press)

CITYWIDE — The Supreme Court handed gay rights advocates twin victories Wednesday morning, striking down a California ban on same-sex marriage and a provision of federal law that denied homosexual couples the rights of their heterosexual counterparts.

In a 5 to 4 decision, the justices found that ProtectMarriage.com, a socially conservative organization, did not have standing to defend Proposition 8, a 2008 voter-approved initiative in California that defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

With no state officials willing to fight for the law, that leaves Prop. 8 out in the cold, and opens the possibility that gay couples could marry within the month.

Gov. Jerry Brown has already given the order to the Department of Public Health to tell counties to issue marriage licenses as soon as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal declares it open season.

At the same time, five Supreme Court Justices ruled that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), discriminated against homosexual couples by denying them rights enjoyed by heterosexual spouses.

Celebrations erupted in West Hollywood, and while there were no reports of street parties in Santa Monica, residents of the city by the sea that the Daily Press met Wednesday expressed a deep satisfaction with the decisions.

“It’s a more universal thing than civil rights,” said Felicia O’Connor, who was hanging out at Douglas Park with her child.

Santa Monica resident and former State Assembly candidate Torie Osborn, who has advocated on LGBT issues for decades, called Wednesday a “great day for gay rights.”

She was working on then-Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 when California voters passed Prop. 8.

Prop. 8 proponents captured the groundswell of minority voters that came out to support Obama, and those against the measure stumbled in their efforts to fight the message. It was a learning experience, Osborn said.

“Out of the horror of Prop. 8 was invented a social movement that was more successful at changing hearts and minds,” she said.

She and Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin spearheaded the Camp Courage program, which trained hundreds of activists in a new set of tactics inspired by the successful Obama campaign.

They put messages of love and personal stories over appeals about civil rights, something that changed the tone and direction of the LGBT movement.

Prop. 8’s demise will not impact every member of the LGBT community tomorrow, although wedding bells may chime a bit more in the future, but the affirmation of the right to marry is an important one for those who have been denied it for so long.

Osborn got married in 2003 when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom began handing out licenses to same-sex couples in what she calls her “favorite civil disobedience act of all time.”

Some, however, view the loss of Prop. 8 as a disappointment.

Sister Ginger Brandenburg volunteers at the Santa Monica Institute, which teaches religious classes for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints across from Santa Monica College. She advocated for Prop. 8, one of those who went door to door discussing the issue with voters.

Those in favor of Prop. 8 felt that gay couples already had many of the same rights as heterosexuals under state law, and that by denying them the ability to marry, they were protecting a religious institution.

“We truly were not trying to be discriminatory. We were trying to value the sanctity of marriage,” Brandenburg said.

While California does have many protections in place for same-sex couples, the same could not have been said about the federal government until Wednesday.

In that decision, Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan found that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by then President Bill Clinton, violated the equal protection provision of the Fifth Amendment by discriminating against same-sex couples.

There are more than 1,000 federal laws in which marital status matters, which covers everything from income and inheritance taxes — the issue involved in the case brought to the Supreme Court — to health benefits and pensions, the Associated Press reports.

Santa Monica has been a leader on gay rights in both arenas.

The Church in Ocean Park went against the teachings of the Methodist Church, of which it is a part, when it married gay couples in 2008. The Rev. Janet Gollery McKeithen risked official censure from the Methodist Church by performing the ceremonies in back yards and “lots of places.”

“Though many of us have been working hard to change it, we are still not allowed to officiate at the weddings of [same-sex] persons, and could be brought up on charges and lose our ordination if we do so,” McKeithen said.

It didn’t stop her from marrying eight couples that year and she “will do so again if the opportunity presents itself.”

In 2011, the Santa Monica City Council joined seven other California cities by passing an ordinance that required most city contractors to provide the same health care and other benefits to workers’ same-sex spouses and domestic partners that they provide to heterosexual couples.

“The bottom line is about human rights and being tolerant of other people,” said Mayor Pam O’Connor. “It’s a human right to marry the person you love.”

That law exempts banking institutions, city grantees and nonprofits, but then-Mayor Richard Bloom, now a member of the state Assembly, called it a “small but significant step.” Bloom applauded the court decisions Wednesday, calling them “courageous and heroic.”

“These dual rulings will give respect and dignity to millions of gay and lesbian Americans,” Bloom said. “The decision is pivotal for Californians and a historic step forward in the struggle for full marriage equality across the country.”

 

 

 

ashley@smdp.com