Asian Same Sex couples insist full Valentine Rights
By Tamara Barak, Bay City News Service
February 14, 2006
A somber Christy Chung and Lancy Woo, a couple who would have
been celebrating their two-year wedding anniversary if same-sex
marriage were legal, filed past the giddy couples waiting to exchange
Valentine's Day nuptials at San Francisco's City Hall this morning.
The women were among the thousands of same-sex partners who wed
in 2004 after Mayor Gavin Newsom urged city officials to defy
state law and issue marriage licenses to gay couples. The California
Superior Court halted the unions after three weeks.
In response, 12 couples -- including Chung and Woo -- filed a
lawsuit against the state. A year later, a San Francisco Superior
Court judge ruled in their favor, finding that excluding same-sex
couples from marriage discriminates on the basis of sex and violates
the state recognized, fundamental right to marry.
The case is currently before the California Court of Appeal in
San Francisco. Last month, Chung and Woo received strong backing
in the form of an amicus brief signed by nearly 30 Asian and Pacific
Islander organizations and filed with the court.
"It means so much to us as an Asian lesbian family to have
our community support us like this," Chung said at a morning
news conference. Representatives of several organizations listed
on the amicus brief, as well as other same-sex couples, crowded
into San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting's office.
Chung and Woo have been together 18 years. The legal protections
of marriage became especially important to them seven years ago,
they say, after Chung gave birth to daughter Olivia.
"I became a stay-at-home mom and I realized how vulnerable
Olivia and I would be if something happened to Lancy," Chung
said. She added that it has been difficult to explain to Olivia
why her parents are prohibited from marrying.
"We can assure her we will always love each other, but there
are no words to justify discrimination and prejudice," Chung
said, her voice breaking. "Having the backing of the Asian
American community is such a strong message to send to our daughter."
Victor Hwang, managing attorney at Asian Pacific Islander Legal
Outreach, authored the brief on behalf of the Asian groups-which
include legal, civil rights, gay, youth and community service
"This brief responds to the government's argument that we
should continue the discrimination against same-sex couples. The
government's argument isn't that gay marriage is harmful to society,
just that this is the way things have always been done,"
David Chiu, president-elect of the Asian American Bar Association
of the Greater Bay Area, said that Asian Americans have historically
suffered under laws banning them from voting, owning land and
marrying outside their race and now have a duty to support gay
members of their community who face similar discrimination.
"I am standing here as a straight man and a regular church-going
Christian who passionately supports equality under the law,"
Chiu said. "We must support and cherish the civil rights
of our brothers and sisters."
Esther Lee rocked her young son Christopher as she talked about
her frustration at not being able to wed partner Lisa Chun.
"From our mothers and fathers we learned that family was
the most important thing," Lee said.
Stuart Gaffney, along with partner John Lewis, said he was dedicating
his involvement in the same-sex marriage movement to his Chinese
mother, who was forbidden from marrying his white father until
California became the first state to lift the ban on interracial
marriage in 1948.
As he prepared to attend the news conference, Gaffney said several
of his friends asked him why he didn't just spend his Valentine's
Day going out for a nice dinner.
"I can't think of anything more romantic to do today than
honor the vows I took two years ago in this building," he
Gaffney recalled the moment he entered into what he believed
was a legal union with Lewis.
"When the clerk said 'by the authority vested in me by the
state of California, I now pronounce you spouses for life,' it
was at that moment we experienced for the first time being treated
as equals by our government."
The men felt deeply betrayed, they said, after learning their
marriage was not legally binding.
"We know in our bones -- in our very essence -- what it
feels like to be treated equally. It was all taken away and the
badge of inferiority was placed right back on us," Lewis
Opponents of same-sex marriages are attempting to put a constitutional
amendment on the California ballot that would prohibit gays and
lesbians from marrying and roll back domestic partner rights.
Assessor-Recorder Ting called the denial of same-sex marriage
rights discriminatory and undemocratic.
"Regardless of public opinion, we have laws on the books
that say that people have to be treated equally," Ting said
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