Two men interviewed about their same-sex marriage in California assert that, “from an insider’s perspective, Prop 8 changed everything.” Both men, who came of age during the 1970s, state: “Our expectations were so low. No one ever thought same-sex marriage had any chance of becoming the law of the land. The overwhelming support from our church, our straight friends and the public to fight Prop 8 gave us the hope that we might have a chance at being legally married after all.”
Proposition 8 was put on the ballot in 2008 after the California Supreme Court ruled “that gay couples had a right to marry.” Prop 8 said that the state “recognized marriage as something only between a man and a woman.” The law, which passed by a small margin the same evening Barack Obama was voted in as the country’s first African-American president in 2008, was devastating to the LGBT community. One of the men interviewed said, “I felt betrayed by my fellow constituents, and let down after so many of us worked hundreds of hours to fight the measure.” That sense of betrayal is why the couple requested their names be withheld from this article.
After meeting in October 1993, the two men were spiritually joined by a UCC pastor in 1998. One says, “Although our commitment ceremony was beautiful and special, we always wanted to be able to marry one another, to be a family unit that was legally recognized. We work hard on our relationship and we feel blessed to have it.”
In the six months between the California Supreme Court ruling in May 2008 and the elections in November when Proposition 8 passed with 52 percent in favor, nearly 18 thousand same-sex couples were married. In October 2008, these two men decided to be one of these couples. Their reasoning: “We would never have been able to forgive ourselves if Prop 8 passed and we hadn’t taken advantage of that six month window. That turned out to be a good call.”
Earlier in life, one of these men was married for several years and had a daughter. He says, “I adored my family and my wife was my best friend, but I gradually realized I was lying to myself and was in the wrong kind of relationship.” The two divorced. Several years later, this same man was in a long-term committed relationship with a partner who died. “The law was not on my side,” he said. “I’d taken a year off work to care for my partner and, even though I’d paid for part of the house, when he died his family was able to kick me out of my home. I had to walk away with nothing but my memories. It took me a long time to recover from that, emotionally and financially.”
An insider’s perspective of what California’s Prop 8 meant to marriage for two different same-sex couples is detailed in HBO’s new movie, The Case Against 8. The movie, currently on limited release in several cities, airs on HBO on June 23 at 9 pm. More than 600 hours of film were shot for the documentary, which follows the three-year fight to overturn Prop 8. Eventually, Prop 8 was ruled unconstitutional by a federal court in 2010. Although the ruling was in 2010, the decision was not enforced until June 26, 2013 when the proponents’ appeals concluded.
One of the biggest changes for same-sex married couples became clear during the 2013 tax season. Before the US Supreme Court struck down Article Three of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), same-sex couples had to file in a completely different manner than they do today.
According to Bankrate, “Before the Supreme Court decision, a legally married same-sex couple could not file a federal 1040 tax return as ‘married-filing-jointly’ or even as ‘married-filing-separately.’ They had to file two separate 1040s, with each partner sending the return as a single taxpayer. If children were part of the family, one partner had to be designated to file as a head-of-household taxpayer. While these filing differences made less of an impact to lower-bracket taxpayers, the difference for those in higher brackets was significant. The recent changes to the tax law were made to ease the marriage tax penalty, occurring when a couple filing jointly is required to pay more than if the spouses each filed returns as single taxpayers.”
The two men interviewed for this article state: “All we ever wanted were the same rights and responsibilities that are available to every other loving couple. Having what we have known as a loving committed relationship for close to 20 years finally recognized as worthy of legal protection brought us both to tears.”
The fight for same-sex marriage in California has been a long and difficult one, but from the perspective of these two insiders, it was worth it.
Interview by Jenny Hansen