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The Whole World Is Watching

The Whole World Is Watching


The media spotlight turned to California last week as the first marriages were performed. Although for the most part it was a rare glimpse at the human angle of our battle, sometimes their silence spoke louder than words

Gay marriages finally commenced in California, setting the pace for the rest of the country. National newspapers approached the subject of gay marriage from a number of angles. They wrote stories that were giddy with anticipation; they spoke of gay marriage's bringing a reversal of fortunes to couples and the economy, and often, they warned people to proceed with caution.

In the run up to the big day, TheNew York Times ran a piece on Saturday headlined, "California Braces for 'New Summer of Love.'"

The story follows couples such as James H. Bainton and Jeffrey Rue gearing up for their walk down the aisle and recapped how they are rewriting all the rules. Bainton said: "It feels like we're sitting here making history."

The article sounded a few notes of skepticism and caution: "There is still the memory of the euphoria, and letdown, in 2004, when nearly 4,000 same-sex couples stood in line to marry in San Francisco, only to have the marriages nullified by the state five months later," notes the Times.

In an article in the Los Angeles Times on Sunday, headlined "Some gays are asking themselves, 'I do?'" couples find themselves asking the same questions straights ask themselves, but in their case it is weighing heavier on their consciences. "In a sense, it changes nothing," said Jeffrey Chernin, a family therapist who works with both gay and straight couples. "But in another sense, it changes everything."

Suddenly finances are front and center -- with couples being warned against formalizing their union if one or both of the partners is HIV-positive -- "All of a sudden, half of their earnings will be their partners' earnings. And if they want to leave each other, it's not as easy as just packing a bag and moving out," said Steven Stolar a family attorney in Beverly Hills.

The article notes, "For gay couples ... the decision carries pressure to act quickly, since marriage will no longer be an option if a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage passes in November."

"I think this whole marriage thing is causing more anxiety and fights among gay couples than anything has before," said, the source, identified only as a Hollywood professional.

Joe Matthews's opinion piece in The Washington Post titled, "The New 'I Do': The Way We're Handling It Is Pretty Half-baked," warns that everyone should "Hold the champagne." Because of the forthcoming ballot initiative, he says, "California could become an expensive, time-consuming quagmire -- gay marriage's Vietnam." As Matthews explains, the California ballot process is never-ending. "This is one of the problems with the initiative process," said Pamela S. Karlan, a scholar at Stanford Law School. "There isn't any way of saying, 'The voters have spoken, and it's over.' They can be asked to speak on it again and again and again.'"

And he says, in some cases, marriage offers scant benefits over the current domestic partnerships available in the state.

An AP story, "California Same-Sex Weddings Will Affect Other States," also made note of the "sobering" challenges that lie ahead. Because many states don't recognize the legality of the unions, a divorce may be hard to obtain. "This is a very serious undertaking," said Richard Williams, a Chicago lawyer who has been helping local same-sex couples weigh their options." The report notes that the usual areas of contention -- "inheritance, medical decision-making, health and pension benefits, and child custody" -- will be harder to navigate than usual for gays dealing with different state and city laws. A coalition of nine gay rights groups is encouraging people not to sue, to "Make Change, Not Lawsuits." Their plea: "One thing couples shouldn't do is just sue the federal government or, if they are from other states, go sue their home state or their employer to recognize their marriage or open up the health plan," it added. "Bad rulings will make it longer."

The New York Post noted this in its special snarky way in a piece headlined "Divorce Lawyers Licking Their Chops."

"Gay couples in California last night began a stampede to the altar, but it was New York divorce lawyers doing the celebrating -- over the prospect of a wave of new clients from same-sex marriages gone bust."


Gay marriage is also being heralded for its economic effect. The New York Times "Summer of Love" piece noted:

"Faced with a wilted economy, water shortages and sticker shock at the gasoline pump, many California businesses are welcoming 'the dinks' (double income, no kids) with open arms. 'It's basically a godsend,' said Daniel Doiron, the general manager of the Ingleside Inn in Palm Springs, which is offering honeymoon specials from $479 bargain basement (boutonnieres, 15-minute wedding, 20 guests) to the 'Elizabeth Taylor' at $29,999 (poolside villas, wedding cake and reception, ice sculptures, flowers, sit-down dinner for 200 and three nights in the honeymoon suite)."

Elsewhere, the Los Angeles Timescovered Rena Puebla and Ellie Genuardi's newfound fortune.

They sell interchangeable wedding figurines for wedding cakes. A few years ago they were universally turned down, now, reports the paper, "We have been getting orders like you wouldn't believe," Puebla said. "I think this will be our best year."

The article also noted a University of California, Los Angeles study that said same-sex weddings could produce $64 million in revenue for California in the next three years, adding that Macy's is hoping to cash in on the frenzy. "At first [some businesses] didn't want to touch us," Puebla said. Now, "Macy's has a million-dollar ad in the paper about accommodating same-sex couples. I think it's exciting."

It's not coming up roses everywhere. The Chicago Tribunereported on Kern County clerk Ann Barrett's decision to stop performing any weddings at all. "Barnett had sought legal advice from the Alliance Defense Fund, which opposes same-sex marriage and lost before the state Supreme Court last month, according to the Bakersfield Californian, which obtained copies of her e-mails."

Brian Raum, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, said that county clerks, who issue marriage licenses, can offer the ceremonies at their discretion.

"It's not discriminatory to do no weddings at all, if everyone is being treated equally," Raum said.


Many newspapers, like like The Gazette in Colorado Springs, Colo., and The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., chose to run with the octogenarian lovebirds Del Martin and Phyllis Leon, who have been together for 55 years.

Indeed, the Los Angeles Times had a story Tuesday that detailed how the message for the media is being strictly controlled that accompanied the photo of Robin Tyler and Diane Olson, titled "Gay Couples Are Aware That Voters Are Watching."

The article notes that the weddings performed in front of the media were carefully vetted to show couples who'd been together a long time and had a mainstream appearance, playing up marriages involving people like George Takei, the actor who played Mr. Sulu on the original Star Trek.

Quasi-conservative paper The New York Sun ran an opinion piece by Kenneth Blackwell titled "Same-Sex Marriage: A Tale of Two Cities," nothing that California's and Massachusetts's landmark decisions differ in a very distinct manner. The California lawsuit, he says, was "not over equal benefits; homosexuals already had that in California. The lawsuit was over redefining marriage to include homosexuals." He continues, "With lawsuits being filed over the rest of this year in every state in the country, the outcome may well be that every state in America will have same-sex marriage, no matter what the people of each state want. If that happens, then the only way to restore traditional marriage would be passing the Federal Marriage Amendment."

There were still some papers that chose to ignore the history-making news or least left it off their front page. Some papers in large cities chose other stories over the gay marriage narrative. The Florida Times-Union of Jacksonville ran with salmonella and highway stories while The Miami Herald played up the Tiger Woods victory in the U.S. Open and a local government conflict. The Chicago Tribune's front-page placement was a small below-the-fold picture box leading to a story inside. The Denver Post also left the news off the front and gave more coverage to Tiger Woods's win. And in Bakersfield, Calif., the town where county clerk Ann Barrett refused to perform ceremonies for anyone, there was no gay marriage play on the front page at all.

Meanwhile, a smaller-town paper, the Lewiston Tribune of Idaho, gave marriage a banner headline, proving that small towns aren't necessarily small-minded.

On a lighter note, The Washington Post's Reliable Source columnists Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts quipped, "One of the lesser-known reasons behind the opposition to same-sex marriage: The gays are going to totally upstage the straights when it comes to outrageous, attention-getting public marriage proposals." The outstanding proposal they reported concerned a screening of Joan Crawford's Strait-Jacket at which guests received glitter-covered plastic hatchets and wire hangers. (Yes, they did.)

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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Tricia Romano