Ben and Lonny, one year later

The Phillips-Lesenanas are still working for equality

Ben and Lonny Phillips-Lesenana celebrated their first wedding anniversary with a trip to Monterey. “We went to Big Sur, Cannery Row, the Fisherman’s Wharf,” said Ben. “You have to get the saltwater taffy, you know.”

Although they’ve been together for 15 years, they weren’t able to marry until last June 17, when the five-month “window” for legal marriages was opened by the state Supreme Court, only to be slammed shut by the passage of Proposition 8 in November. While marriage hasn’t changed the nature of their relationship—“We already had the big stuff worked out,” Ben says—they both agree that others understand the nature of their relationship more readily. “It’s a big thing, being married.”

And they’re not done working for marriage equality. “We are concerned, not so much for ourselves, but for our friends who didn’t get married in time,” said Ben.

Lonny agreed. “It’s kind of a weird feeling to be part of such a small group, only 18,000 [couples],” he said.

Ben thinks that the key to the repeal of Prop. 8 is in the ongoing work to educate “our friends and neighbors and co-workers and family.” He credits the drop in numbers between voters who supported 2000’s Proposition 22 (overturned by the California Supreme Court last year) and those who supported Prop. 8 to education.

“It’s a process of coming out,” he said, and people become less likely to oppose gay marriage “as we make our lives more a part of the normal fabric of the community.”

In fact, last year’s excitement surrounding the first legal same-sex marriages gave the Phillips-Lesenanas a chance to expand their circle of friends. They’d just moved into a new home and hadn’t had a chance to talk to some of the neighbors. According to Ben, their appearance in SN&R (see “Newlyweds, welcome to SN&R’s pink couch”; SN&R Feature; June 26, 2008) was a “conversation starter” that gave them an opportunity to get acquainted, even with some of their more conservative neighbors.

And they know the work isn’t done. “At Pride, we were thanking all the Equality California volunteers,” said Ben. “Even though we’re married already, we need to thank people for continuing to work until everyone has this right.”