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Lorri Jean on the
Battle Ahead

Lorri Jean on the
Battle Ahead

As same-sex marriage becomes legal in California, Lorri L. Jean--CEO of the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center--is both celebratory and girded for battle

"In light of the fundamental nature of the substantive rights embodied in the right to marry--and their central importance to an individual's opportunity to live a happy, meaningful, and satisfying life as a full member of society--the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all individuals and couples, without regard their sexual orientation." --Ronald George, California Chief Justice

I'll never forget when I learned of the California Supreme Court's historic decision to overturn the ban on marriage between gay and lesbian couples. A group of us were in my office at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center at 10 a.m., nervously waiting for the opinion to be posted on the Court web site. As soon as we learned that justice had prevailed, it was as if our community had won the World Series, the Superbowl and Wimbledon all at once. I cheered, I cried, I ran up and down the halls spreading the news and hugging everyone within reach. Then I called the people I love most in the world, my partner of more than 16 years, Gina M. Calvelli, and my Mom.

Finally. Finally I would be able to legally marry the person I have chosen to spend my life with.

Of course, from my perspective as a "professional homosexual," the moment was one of almost unprecedented power. Given the status of marriage in our society and the influence of California, this is among the most important victories in our entire civil rights movement.

What I hadn't expected was the power of the moment personally. I had never questioned whether gay and lesbian people should have the right to marry. But, like many of us, I had mixed emotions over the years about joining a flawed and failing heterosexual institution.

In time it became clear to me that such concerns did not resonate with most LGBT people. All of us grew up knowing that marriage was what people who loved each other did. No matter the failure rate, no matter the sexism, it was the central social institution in our lives. Everyone understands what it means to be married. The same cannot be said about what it means to be "domestic partnered."

Ultimately, my perspective evolved. After Gina and I survived a difficult separation, we felt stronger than ever. As marriage became legal in other countries, we began to talk about tying the knot. But because it wouldn't be legal here, it seemed meaningless. We already had the commitment. What we wanted was legal equality.

But once the prospect of marriage became real in California, I was surprised by how it made me feel. And how others reacted.

Once Gina and I announced our wedding plans, we felt giddy. Our family members on both sides were thrilled and began making travel plans to attend the festivities. My brother was so excited when we visited him the week after the decision that he greeted us with a celebratory bottle of champagne. A straight friend's four-year-old son wanted to know if we were now going to have a baby!

While nothing in our relationship had really changed, suddenly everything was different. Straight friends and family--especially the kids--now had a context they understood. Though they had fully accepted us before, they were now able to welcome us to the "real" institution. The one they enjoy. They were almost happier for us than we were for ourselves!

Our LGBT friends are thrilled too. Congratulations and support flowed our way. Of course, Gina and I don't need a legal marriage to make our relationship real. We've weathered the tough times and are in it together for life, whether the government treats us fairly or not.

Still, something has changed for us now. And it's not just the fun we're having referring to each other as "fiancee" or the way we're being treated or the fascinating ups and downs of the wedding planning process. What we are preparing for feels very serious; like we're on a different path now. I'm still trying to figure out exactly why. Regardless, I intend to enjoy it all.

But my enjoyment is tempered by my concern about the future. Because even as we celebrate, individually and as a community, a question hangs over our heads: How long will it last?

In less than five months, California voters will face a ballot measure that would once again deny gay and lesbian people the fundamental right to marry the person of our choice. The easy answer is to get angry. After all, it's wrong to put anyone's fundamental freedoms up for a vote. But the right answer is to get busy--and defeat this measure in November.

The good news is that we've got a case to make to the vast majority of voters--regardless of how they may feel about marriage for gay and lesbian couples. After all, you don't have to love the concept of marriage equality to believe that the laws of our state shouldn't single people out for unfair treatment. Or that the government has no business telling adults who they can and cannot marry, just like it has no business telling people what we can do in the privacy of our own homes. Or that we don't need more government in our private lives. Our case is both simple and universal: Gay or straight--we all deserve fundamental fairness. We all should have the same rights and freedoms, the same right to personal privacy and the same right to decide for ourselves how to live and who to love.

The freedom to marry is fundamental, like the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech. Those freedoms must be protected--not just by our community--but by all who enjoy them. As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught, "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Someday, everyone will accept the committed, loving relationships in our community as the wonderful, affirmations of life we all know them to be. Unfortunately, Election Day won't be that day. But it can be a day when voters declare--once and for all--that our Constitution protects everyone equally. That it protects the privacy of every Californian. And that it lets every one of us decide for ourselves who to love and who to marry.

Someday, we will win their hearts. Until then, let's make sure we win their votes.

Let's not just celebrate on June 17. Let's make it last a lifetime.

Jean is the CEO of the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center.

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