By Annie Belfield and Dana Glaser
In the middle of seventh period, Video Art teacher Cheri Gaulke sent an e-mail to her partner of almost 30 years. The subject line read, âWill you marry me?â She jumped up. âI have an announcement,â she said to her students. âI know this has nothing to do with what weâre studying right now. But gay marriage just became legal.â
On May 15, the California Supreme Court struck down a law that banned same-sex marriage, making California the second state after Massachusetts to provide marriage licenses to homosexual couples. Members of the gay community will most likely be eligible for marriage within 30 days of the ruling.
âWhat was wonderful was that my students were really interested, and we ended up having a long discussion,â Gaulke said. âWhat I found is that they almost didnât know that it was not legal.â
Gaulke has made tentative plans to be married on July 5. She and her partner initially considered participating in a media event in which many gay couples would marry at the same time, but they decided to honor the event in a more personal way.
Chemistry teacher Steven Marsden, who has been with his partner Ric Kajikawa for 32 years, says the court ruling will not affect his life in the immediate future.
âThe first thing I thought was, âOkay, Iâm just going to wait for the other shoe to drop,ââ Marsden said. âI have a feeling it is a little too early to celebrate.â
Almost immediately after the court ruling was announced, California conservatives began arguing for a possible November ballot initiative to overturn the decision by amending the state constitution.Â Many are hesitant to marry after the 30-day period because they fear the marriage will become void if the initiative is passed.
âMy partner, who is an attorney, studied the opinion at length,â school counselor Luba Bek said.Â
âShe says that the way that it is worded excludes the possibility that it is going to be overruled, because if it does, the state of California will not be able to issue marriage licenses to anyone. At least, that is her take on it right now.Â Iâm a little pessimistic. I think the conservatives will find a way.â
Marsdenâs concerns, however, extend beyond this November. Even if gay marriage in California is sustained, Marsden believes that the fight for equal benefits is far from finished.
Heterosexual marriages legalized in California are recognized by both the federal government and all individual states, but gay marriages would not be. This would lead to a number of complications that might overshadow the benefits of marriages. For Marsden, the economic benefits of a legal marriage outweigh the complications. One compelling advantage would be health-care, which falls under state jurisdiction and is much cheaper for married couples than for individuals.
Both Marsden and Gaulke have long considered themselves married and celebrated their respective commitments with wedding ceremonies years ago. Unlike Marsden, however, Gaulke sees the ruling as an emotional milestone as well as a legal one.
âNow that it is legal, I can really get married. It just makes me want to cry,â she said.
In light of the recent ruling, school chaplain Rabbi Emily Feigenson has offered to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples in the immediate Harvard-Westlake community.
âTo me marriage doesnât really matter that much, straight or gay,â Bek said. âIf you are together, you are together. If they took away the marriage license would a couple still be together? But itâs nice to have the acknowledgement.â
Bek and her partner legally married in Canada two years ago.
âThere is something wrong with the fact that I had to go to a different country to get married, and then when I come back to my own country I am not legal,â Bek said.
Bekâs marriage will be automatically legalized if the ruling takes effect at the end of June. Whether or not they plan to marry, the two teachers and counselor all agreed that the decision was a step forward in the long fight for gay rights.
âYouâre a step along the way and I think that this is how these things are done,â Marsden said. âIâm not a social optimist. I never expected the Court to do this. I donât expect to see change happen in my lifetime, but then I said that about the Berlin Wall.â