Surrounded by family, friends, and colleagues, science teacher Melissa Kindelspire and art teacher Jo Sutton took their marriage vows on Oct. 4, 2008. They were married during a cruise on the bay by the woman who was captain to their cruise boat.
Like many weddings, it had its mishaps. Passengers had bouts of seasickness, a card blew into the bay, and the cake nearly toppled when the boat ride got bumpy.
“We both messed up our vows because we were nervous the whole time,” added Sutton.
But these incidents were trivial compared to the political setback the newlyweds faced, which came exactly one month later when California voters passed Proposition 8, effectively banning gay marriage in the state.
“I felt like somebody had punched me in the gut,” said Sutton. Kindelspire said she felt “completely deflated, sad, and angry.”
“I did not want to go to school the next day,” said Kindelspire. “Everybody wanted to talk about it and I didn’t want to talk about it at all.” Despite her feeling of defeat, she also felt the need to be strong for the students that came to her about it.
Sutton said the day was rough for her too; she found it difficult to even look her students in the eyes.
“It was devastating,” said Patricia Magda, longtime CVHS English teacher and now a curriculum coordinator, who married her partner of 23 years while it was legal. She said that early in the campaign, she “didn’t think there was any way it could pass.”
English teacher Amanda Staab also thought the measure would lose. “I took it for granted that it wouldn’t pass,” she said. “It was a blow. I wasn’t really expecting that.”
It was a close call; Prop. 8 passed with 52 percent support.
The campaigns for and against Prop. 8 went on for months before Election Day. Television ads appeared on both sides of the issue.
“It was all lies. I could not believe they won on lies and fear,” said social studies teacher Roger Kim, who was also married while gay marriage was legal, about the Yes on 8 television ads. “It pissed me off every time I saw one… I wanted to throw shoes at my TV.”
Kim campaigned extensively against Prop. 8. He participated in phone banks, sent emails, went to door-to-door events, gave donations to the campaign, held a donation party, and even put No on 8 on his wedding registry.
“I lived and breathed No on 8 for those few months,” said Kim. As for those who supported Prop. 8, Kim said, “I respect their beliefs, but when their beliefs infringe on my rights, that’s not okay.”
When Prop. 8 passed despite his best efforts to defeat it, he said he wondered, “Was that for nothing?”
The campaign was arduous and brought up a number of complicated issues.
The idea of family came up as an issue during the campaign, with many Prop. 8 supporters claiming that Prop. 8 would protect both the ideas of marriage and family.
Staab, who is pregnant with her first child, said, “It makes me feel that they want to invalidate gay families. Gay families have existed for a long time. We’re going to continue to exist,” she said.
“They’re not protecting families,” Kindelspire agreed. “We have families too, and if they really believe in the family unit, they’ll let us get married.”
Religion also played a role in the campaign, and many Prop. 8 opponents feel that religious beliefs are the reason Prop. 8 passed.
“In my eyes, God isn’t discriminatory and hateful,” said Staab about the use of religion in the campaign. “I feel that people are using their religion as a disguise for hate. They’re using their religion to mask discrimination and it’s not even a really good mask.”
According to Staab, the arguments for Prop. 8 were “nonsensical.”
None of the couples that were married while gay marriage was legal have received any notification regarding the status of their marriages. A hope exists that the marriages that already exist will still be recognized, even if the state permits no more gay couples to wed. Sutton said that if her marriage to Kindelspire is revoked, “It’ll just be another battle scar.”
Although it won’t change the commitment any of the couples have, Kindelspire said, “It’s this added layer of angst that heterosexual couples don’t have to deal with.”
The legal issues of gay couples are numerous; for example, married couples have to file joint state taxes but separate federal ones.
Staab, who got a civil union to her partner six years ago, had a wedding ceremony four years ago, and got legally married last summer, asked, “How many more times are we going to have to get married?”
That answer may be coming.
On behalf of gay couples, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a writ petition to the California Supreme Court that challenged the legality of Prop. 8. Attorney General Jerry Brown and multiple California cities and counties have also challenged the measure. They argue that Prop. 8 is not an amendment, but a revision to the Constitution because it “makes far-reaching herpes simplex changes to the nature of our basic governmental plan by severely compromising the core constitutional principal of equal protection of the laws, depriving a vulnerable minority of fundamental rights.”
The court will hear arguments on March 5 and issue a decision within 90 days.
According to Magda, this type of proposition should not be passed through the initiative process. “I think it’s wrong for 51 percent of the population to vote on the rights of a minority,” she said.
“How can people have a general vote to take away my rights?” asked Sutton. “History’s made it clear that separate isn’t equal.”
Magda also said that if the case succeeds and the Supreme Court invalidates Prop. 8, “It wouldn’t only protect me and my marriage. It would protect everyone from this happening again.”
These teachers are all hopeful that eventually, gay marriage will be accepted.
“Prop. 8 is discrimination,” said Staab. “And eventually everybody’s going to see that.”