Longtime members of Marriage Equality USA remember the steady trek of same sex couples to the courthouses and city halls throughout California every Valentine’s Day to ask the local clerk for a civil marriage license. And every year they were turned away. Until 2004 when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said yes. But on that same day in Beverly Hills, Robin Tyler and Diane Olson and Rev. Troy Perry and Phillip De Blieck (whose 2003 legal marriage in Canada was not recognized by the state), with their attorney Gloria Allred, decided to file a lawsuit challenging California’s ban on same sex marriage.
That suit became part of six lawsuits consolidated into In Re Marriage – which the plaintiffs won in May 2008 when the California Supreme Court ruled the gay marriage ban was unconstitutional. The court specifically allowed Robin and Diane in Los Angeles and Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin in San Francisco to become the first couples to be legally married – a day before marriage equality went into effect statewide. Robin and Diane were chosen to receive LA county’s first license “in recognition of their unique role in the court’s decision,” acting L.A. County Registrar-Recorder Dean Logan told the LA Times.
(Robin Tyler cries after sharing vows with Diane Olson on June 16, 2008 at the Beverly Hills Courthouse. Attorney Gloria Allred is at Robin’s side. Photo by Karen Ocamb)
Tuesday, March 26, Robin Tyler and Diane Olson (who reconciled after a period considering divorce) were at the US Supreme Court to watch as two same sex couples – the plaintiffs in Perry v Hollingsworth – asked the Justices to strike down Prop 8 and allow them to marry, too. The initiative was passed by voters in November 2008 in reaction to the California high court granting marriage rights to same sex couples. Robin and Diane were at the Court to symbolically represent the 18,000 same sex California couples who were married during the brief window before Prop 8 passed and that fundamental right was taken away by the majority of voters.
After the oral arguments, the Perry plaintiffs and the AFER attorneys held a news conference, covered live by C-SPAN. After they concluded, there was a pause as reporters waited for Prop 8 sponsor ProtectMarriage.com attorney Charles Cooper to come to the microphone. But Gloria Allred was standing nearby and lest a vacuum go unfilled, decided to introduce her clients, noting that they had twice argued against Prop 8 before the California Supreme Court. Allred said:
We also argued that even though we felt [Prop 8] was unconstitutional, that the 18,000 couples who had married after our first victory in the California Supreme Court – that those marriage should remain valid. And after our first victory, Robin and Diane were able to marry and the 18,000 couples are permitted to have their marriages remain valid. And we’re here today because we’d like the US Supreme Court to overturn Prop 8.
Tyler then expressed anger at what went on at oral arguments:
If 18,000 gays and lesbians are married in California – 18,000 couples – what will it harm if more couples get married? We’ve been married for five years. California has not dropped into the sea. Nothing has happened in California.
[The Justices] called them [the 18,000 same sex married couples] an “experiment” in the Supreme Court. We’re not an experiment. We’re a civil rights movement and we deserve civil rights. And I hope they come down on the right side of history because it’s not a matter of If we’re going to marry – it’s a matter of when this issue is solved. We will win eventually because the public is on our side.
Speaking with me later by phone, Tyler’s anger had not subsided:
I was told to put a good spin on what happened. But I’m not going to do that. I felt like I was sitting in some Medieval court. I was counting how many Catholic Justices there were. I believe the public is far ahead of the Supreme Court on this issue.
I’m angry. I felt like a second class citizen. I felt that some of the questions by the Justices were degrading. How dare they sit in front of a room of such accomplished LGBT people and refer to us like this was all something new! And when Scalia asked, ‘Where in the Constitution is there discrimination against gay people?’ I mean – women are not in the Constitution, either, but there’s implied discrimination. Some of their questions were demeaning and insulting to the audience – and the court was filled with people they were talking about! I just hope they do the right thing.