Gay marriage returns to California

Despite DOMA’s fall, questions remain over marriage between homosexual Americans and foreign nationals.

lesbian couple370 (photo credit: Reuters)
lesbian couple370
(photo credit: Reuters)
SAN FRANCISCO – Couple after couple received homegrown yellow tulips, the genuine giddiness of friends and official marriage licenses from the state of California over the weekend in San Francisco’s City Hall, embracing a sense of history after the US Supreme Court renewed the right to marry a member of the same sex in the Golden State.
In a dramatically written decision, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional last week, demanding that federal benefits be extended to gay couples in states where their marriages are recognized.
The top court also overturned California’s Proposition 8 – which took away the previously granted right of gays to marry in the state by popular referendum in 2008 – on a technicality, finding that the representatives of the case did not have standing to appeal to their chamber and thus defaulting to the position of a lower court.
The technical grounds for the ruling were sufficient for the tens of thousands of people who poured in to San Francisco this weekend to rejoice, replacing the city’s famous fog on an exceptionally bright Sunday marking an historic Pride parade.
Yet while celebrations colored the city streets, officials are still parsing the extent of the ruling’s reach.
Although weddings have resumed in California, a state with a population of more than 33 million, 38 states still do not allow or explicitly ban gay marriage.
And while DOMA has been struck down, the rights of those in states with marriage equality do not necessarily extend across state lines.
The politics of those lines will continue to occupy legislators who originally used them to justify DOMA in the first place. But among leaders in the international community, there is a different concern: whether gay foreign nationals will be able to acquire American citizenship through marriage.
In San Francisco, Israel’s consul- general for the Pacific Northwest Andy David held a meeting with his staff last week to address that issue in the wake of the Supreme Court’s rulings.
“It’s too early to tell confidently, because of reservations on immigration reform,” David told The Jerusalem Post.
And yet, without hesitation, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano stated last week that DOMA’s fall means that married couples, regardless of orientation, must be treated equally within the immigration system. Foreign nationals in same-sex marriages, who previously feared deportation and forced separation from their partners, are already being told that they may now stay in the United States legally and permanently.
On Monday, a Bulgarian student became the first man in the US to have his green card petition approved due to his marriage to an American man since the Supreme Court struck down DOMA.
Traian Popov, 41, who has a student visa, married Julian Marsh, 55, in New York last year because Florida, where they live, did not recognize same-sex marriage.
David says gay couples don’t often approach the Israeli mission until after they get married, or decide to register a child with the country. But especially in the state of California, and with such a large population of Israelis in Palo Alto, his office expects a significant spike in notifications and requests.
“And if the US gives a marriage license to a gay couple, Israel will recognize it,” David noted. Israel currently does not grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Congressmen in Washington hoped the DOMA decision would clarify the key disagreement on immigration reform, which still faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
The Obama administration was keen on recognizing gay rights in the law and delayed the vote in part expecting the Supreme Court to end the debate for them.
At San Francisco’s Pride Parade, in the city’s central square where the event met its climax, an Israeli flag was recast in rainbow above one of two booths devoted to Israel – one of few countries with a distinct presence at the event.
One booth advertised Tel Aviv as “free and fabulous,” with a green photo screen that brought visitors to its famous beaches.
Members of Rabbi Lawrence Raphael’s Sherith Israel congregation participated in the parade. Raphael told the Post he spoke to them about Proposition 8 this weekend, and that he planned on officiating at same-sex weddings.
“I’m aware of the fact that I have congregants with family members who are gay, who have had to go to Vermont or New York to get married,” Raphael said.
Yet for veterans of this city, the pace of progress has been slow. Better than most, they understand the reservations imbedded in the court’s decisions.
At the Edge in the Castro district of San Francisco, Bob Lanning, a 71-year-old Native American from the state of Washington and a US Army veteran, drank with his friends as if it were any other day. One of his white-haired friends was covered in tattoos and wearing a kilt. The entire crew was older, retired, sporting Hawaiian shirts, beards and beads.
Lanning – who has been with his partner, a former NASA employee, for 42 years – stated that the incremental approach he sees in Proposition 8 requires patience.
“We knew it wouldn’t be everything all at once,” he said. “There’s still a lot to do.”