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The Apartheid of Love

The California Supreme Court will hear legal arguments on March 5 about Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage that was approved in November by 52% of the state’s voters. The point of law at issue is whether or not Proposition 8 constitutes a legal revision to the state constitution.

I am not a legal expert. But for me, and for the community I serve, this case is about much more than a legal abstraction.

On May 15 the California Supreme Court ruled that marriage was a fundamental right that must be extended to gay men and lesbians. In the months that followed, up until Election Day, some 18,000 gay couples married legally in the state of California.

As a rabbi, I officiated at more than 60 weddings for gay men and lesbians — including one of the first three such marriages performed in California following the court’s ruling. My wife and I — we were married with a ketubah and a chuppah more than 15 years ago — finally gained legal recognition for our relationship.

The couples at whose weddings I officiated tell me that there is a difference in the way their relationships are regarded by themselves and by others. Even if they had been a committed couple for many years, they woke up the day after their legal wedding and saw their rings and their paperwork. They finally felt that they were fully a family, fully next of kin. As Elliot, one of the grooms, said to me: “We have been in a committed relationship for nine years, but after my wedding day I knew and Peter knew we were joined together fully and completely and no one could separate us.”

I also see changes in my own life. Even though my wife and I have been together for almost two decades, people now treat us differently. They understand our relationship; they no longer ask if Karen is my business partner or my sister. Even strangers understand when I say, “This is my wife.” We now feel a sense of full equality with our neighbors.

Our 15-year-old son, who was the best man at our recent wedding, feels the bonds of his family in a different and deeper way. He is proud that his parents are legally married and feels that his family is more legitimate in his own eyes and in the eyes of his friends and schoolmates. “I am so happy that people finally see us as the same,” he said.

But with the passage of Proposition 8, the ability of gay men and lesbians to legally marry in California ceased. If Proposition 8 is upheld, gay and lesbian couples who have not yet married will not know the joy, dignity and protections that marriage can bring to them and their families. It is apartheid of love.

For those of us who married during the short window that opened last year, the legal status of our marriages now hangs in the balance. We wait anxiously for a ruling as to whether our marriages will be retroactively annulled. Our lives and our families are in the hands of the seven justices of the California Supreme Court.

One of the reasons we have courts is to protect members of minority groups from the tyranny of the majority. In California, a majority has taken away the civil rights of a minority. I pray that the justices will do what is just and protect our constitution by invalidating this vote that took away my rights and those of my congregants.

Rabbi Denise L. Eger is president of the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis and founding rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, Calif.

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