Categorized | Politics, Initiatives

Prop 8 Brings Hurt and Uncertainty for Local Couple

Jennings, right, campaiging on Tuesday with Sharon Lewis.

Jennings, right, campaigning on Tuesday with Sharon Lewis.

BY SWETA VOHRA//

For Joyce Jennings, Tuesday’s election brought both a sense of jubilation and a measure of defeat. While Jennings was thrilled about the country electing its first black president, California passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages, a move that meant, “racism is still prevalent in our culture,” according to Jennings.

“I’m feeling really sad,” said Jennings on Wednesday afternoon. She said that she was still hanging on to sliver of hope, as the absentee ballots had not been counted yet. But a win for the other side had already been declared on many news stations, and it was unlikely things were going to change.

The issue of marriage has been a long and emotional journey for Jennings, a Berkeley resident, and her partner, Patty Mead. After the California Supreme Court overturned a ban on same-sex marriages this past May, Jennings and Mead were married for the second time. The two had previously married in 2004, when Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco allowed weddings of same-sex couples. However, that license was nullified six months later as the Supreme Court determined the mayor had acted outside his authority. For Jennings, the ceremony this past June was exceptionally emotional.

“It felt very different to me to have the government saying of course you can get married,” said Jennings.

To their surprise and delight, the person who conducted the ceremony was a part-time public health officer who had requested the chance to marry same-sex couples. According to Jennings, the woman had just attended her own lesbian daughter’s wedding and was so moved that she felt she had to be a part of this tremendous moment and asked to wed couples.

“That made the whole ceremony even more special,” said Jennings.

However, with Tuesday’s election results, California will add an amendment forbidding same-sex marriages, and it is unclear whether marriages like Jennings will still be upheld. The vote on Proposition 8 passed with 52 percent of the votes and was one of the most expensive social proposition campaigns in the country with over $73 million dollars spent between both sides.

Jennings, who believes Proposition 8 strips away basic human rights, said, “I’m a consenting adult – cannot I decide who I want to spend the rest of my life with…who my family is?”

Almost 10 years ago, Jennings met partner Mead and her then 9-year old son at a lesbian ballroom dancing class. Jennings said Mead knew right away she wanted to spend the rest of her life with Jennings, but it took Jennings a bit longer. The couple did fall in love and were engaged six months later. In 2001, the couple held a private commitment ceremony in Tilden Park with a 100 of their closest friends and family.

Jennings said when people really get to know a lesbian or gay couple, they understand that they share many of the same beliefs and encounter many of the same compromises and sacrifices other families experience. She said it’s time to “break down [opponents’] assumptions.”

She said she understands people have their opinions, but she also said that voters have to separate themselves emotionally from these issues. “I’m not asking them to be okay with [same-sex marriages], but I’m asking them to be fair.”

She adds that she is also angry about the entire legislative process. A constitution is supposed to protect people’s rights, according to Jennings, rather than change them with just a simple majority vote. “How can people be voting on other people’s basic rights?”

Late Wednesday, San Francisco attorney Dennis Herrera filed a lawsuit requesting the court prevent the action from taking place, but it is unclear what will happen next. Many opponents argue that such a ban is an illegal constitutional revision and only the legislature can make such revisions, not the people.

For people like Jennings, the next steps are very uncertain. Although she is experiencing a lot of hurt and disappointment, Jennings is not backing down. “I want to know if there is an effective way to fight this – that’s what I’m focusing on now.”

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