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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 organizations.

"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," Hwang said.

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 said.

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 said.

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

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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