‘Freedom in all its dimensions’
Locals celebrate Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality
It was no coincidence that Stonewall Alliance of Chico planned its celebration of marriage equality for Friday (June 26). On that date two years ago, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling effectively legalized same-sex marriage in California, and Thomas Kelem, executive director of Stonewall, said the local LGBTQ community had had a hunch another landmark decision was forthcoming on the anniversary.
They were right. That day, the high court ruled 5-4 that, under the 14th Amendment, all 50 states must allow same-sex couples the right to marry and have their unions recognized. Conveniently, they’d already organized an event at the Chico Women’s Club for that very evening.
At the celebration attended by members of the local LGBTQ community and their allies, married couple Dayle and Michael Akridge Deer, who wore matching “Pride” T-shirts and stood together at a podium decorated to resemble an altar, spoke of sharing equality and recognition with married couples across the nation.
“People say, ‘What’s the difference, getting married or not [getting] married? It’s just a piece of paper,’” Dayle said. “Well, we know it’s not just a piece of paper.”
“You should see our tax return this year,” Michael chimed in to laughter. “It’s fabulous.”
While the book isn’t closed yet—officials in some states, including Alabama and Texas, are defiant of the Supreme Court’s ruling—history likely will remember Obergefell v. Hodges as significant a case as Roe v. Wade. Kelem agreed that the ruling represents a huge step forward for society as a whole, not just those who identify as LGBTQ.
For Jessica Provencio and her wife, Adelio Stevens, marriage equality is much more than symbolic.
“It means that when I had surgery, my wife could ask the doctor for information, and that’s a really big deal,” Provencio said. “We can collect Social Security. If one of us dies, the other automatically gets custody of children. Finally, when one of us passes away, we can have the benefits of our estate passed along to our spouse, along with any other benefits previously denied to us.”
Back on June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court deemed a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act—the law that barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages legalized by state governments—unconstitutional in a 5-4 vote. The same day, it struck down California’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in the state. The decisions set off a joyous celebration at Chico City Plaza.
When comparing the event Friday with that party in downtown Chico two years ago, Kelem said he could sense a change in the community’s awareness of LGBTQ issues.
“Two years ago, there was a lot of celebrating and a lot of ignoring other people,” he said. “We were so focused on the marriage thing. This time around, people were much more aware that there is still a lot to work on. … I think it shows a lot more insight and maturity.
“The trans community felt totally left out,” he added.
Areas in critical need of improvement regarding the rights of trans people, Kelem said, include improving accessibility to health care and addressing workplace and housing discrimination.
“There’s definitely still a lot of bullying, physical violence and suicide in the general LGBTQ community,” he said, “and in the trans community it’s times 10.”
At times during Friday’s celebration, the speakers took on serious tones. Jim Peck, pastor of New Vision Church in Chico, led the proceedings and read a key paragraph in Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion:
“The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning.
“When new insight reveals discord between the Constitution’s central protections and a received legal stricture, a claim to liberty must be addressed.”