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Robin Tyler on
All Things Marriage

Robin Tyler on
All Things Marriage

The outspoken activist talks about her role in marriage equality, dumb reporters, and how there's no way to stop the tidalwave of lawsuits

Remember the Mad Hatter? "I'm late, I'm late for a very important date, hurry up, slow down, hurry up, slow down, I'm late, I'm late, I'm late." My partner, Diane, and I will be the first and only gay couple to be married in Los Angeles County on Monday, June 16 because the first lawsuit filed in California challenging the constitutionality of the ban on same-sex marriage (the one that became the successful supreme court marriage case) was filed by us--Tyler et al vs. County of LA.

Rev. Troy Perry and his partner, Phillip Ray de Bliek, filed with us as they wanted California to recognize their Canadian marriage. And we did this against the advice of gay attorneys and organizations who warned us we would not win because it was a conservative Republican appointed court, and "How could we without consulting these attorneys?" Well, we won, and many still haven't forgiven us for filing the suit.

I'm 66, and I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date. My union AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) would not give my partner Diane medical insurance after I retired because we were "just domestic partners." The AFTRA woman said, "That's just the way it is, hon" and hung up. I called my friend Gloria Allred, told her what happened, and her law firm agreed to represent us in court for marriage rights (pro bono by the way).

Every time we appeared on television, I said, "We sued because AFTRA will not give my partner medical insurance after I retire because we are not married, we are just domestic partners." Finally, three months before I retired, AFTRA changed their medical plan and extended medical insurance to vested same-sex partners after they retire, the first show business union to do so. AFTRA said they had been working on it all along.

So, our lawsuit wasn't a reaction to Mayor Newsom marrying couples. (This was a great and brave thing for him to do, and we supported it). But we announced our lawsuit at 9 a.m., February 12--three hours prior to Gavin beginning the marriages, which we knew nothing about until we saw him perform the marriages on TV. Our lawsuit was an action, taken by us, prior to the S.F. marriages. I was fed up with the discrimination of my union. And my partner, who is 11 years younger then me, needed that insurance.

Gloria filed for us on Feb. 24, 2004. When the S.F. marriages were annulled on March 11, 2004, the San Francisco city attorneys office and LGBT legal organizations, as well as the ACLU, sued on their behalf, and we were all consolidated into one case.

Last week, when we were being counseled by Rabbi Denise Eger on what would happen during our marriage ceremony, which she is performing, a television reporter asked to drop by. Then the reporter and the cameraman followed us to Cake-Art, a gay owned bakery which is fantastic, and is making our wedding cake. And then they followed us to the Beverly Hills Courthouse where we had announced the lawsuit in 2004. And what did the reporter want to know? How much everything was going to cost! She is doing a national TV show this Tuesday morning on the financial impact of same-sex marriages on California. Fine. But she kept asking, "What is the budget for your wedding?" "What were we going to wear?" (suits). "How much did the suits cost?" (we couldn't remember). "How much money was California going to make by granting us civil rights?" I kept wondering if she had interviewed Rosa Parks whether she would have asked her how much the bus cost, and if her bold stand would increase public transportation revenue.

Diane and I were both beginning to feel angry and embarrassed. Money, money, money, money. I finally blurted out "California will make hundreds of millions of dollars, enough to fund the Iraq war for about a week!" She didn't get it. We tried talking about the decades of activists who fought for this for so long--for us it was about civil rights. The decision was not just about marriage. For the first time in American history, a state supreme court recognized our community as a "suspect class" entitled to all the rights and privileges of heterosexuals. And this reporter was concerned with how much the floral arrangements cost? I told her it would be a simple wedding, held in front of the Beverly Hills Courthouse, ground zero in the California Supreme Court same-sex marriage case, and that a few things were being donated to thank us for filing the lawsuit. But where would we honeymoon? I answered, "Right here in California, fighting the upcoming constitutional amendment," since being together for 15 years we had already consummated the relationship. She hadn't heard a thing. Without skipping a beat, she said "Hawaii?" We ran, and I thought, I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date.

Which brings me to what I have been thinking about. The major organizations came out with an article last week called "Make Change, Not Lawsuits." They recommend that the out-of-state gay couples who come to California to marry should not run back to their states and sue, when in a just a few years, public opinion will change, and we will have a better chance of winning our rights. Although the organizations are well intentioned, they might not know what you and I know.

You cannot control 30 million people, especially lesbians and gays. In the states where they have passed initiatives or illegal constitutional amendments there is frustration beyond the boiling point. While I agree this is not the time to pursue a federal lawsuit, I understand the emotions of our community. Gay people in other states will look at California, and there will be an internal rage that emerges in some that will compel them to just not take it anymore. The injustice that has been heaped upon them, day after day, week after week, year after year, has cumulated in the final insult, by taking away rights they have never had.

And, they will sue. Win or lose, they will sue. Right or wrong, they will sue. Whether you or I agree with it, they will sue. Rage is impossible to control. It's a volcano. It finally explodes, and so the organizations must not be surprised if they go back and tie up the court system all over this country. If this happens, (and I am not encouraging it, merely saying the tail wags the dog) we must go to plan B. If these lawsuits happen, and these plaintiffs lose, let us begin to organize thousands to turn out on the streets on any day there is a negative ruling against our community (and we don't have to wait for more rulings, we can do it right now against the previous rulings).

Let us show them, as the civil rights movement did in the 1960s, and the AIDS movement in the '80s, that we will not take this passively. Yes, we all want to have everyone get to know us and love us and hopefully they will support us when we come out to them. But power is never given, it is taken. And that's what being a movement means; to move. Because we are all late, we're late, for a very important date--equality. Yours truly, The Mad Hatter.

Robin Tyler, and her wife, Diane Olson, are two of the original plaintiffs in the California same-sex marriage lawsuits that led to the historic supreme court decision. Tyler blogs regularly for the Huffington Post.

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