We wanted to describe what Prop 8 means to us personally, and why we feel is important that to vote No on 8. Proponents of this initiative have built a campaign on lies and fear that does not acknowledge how a yes vote would really affect people.
In August 1983, 11 months after we met, we declared our commitment to be each other’s partner for life. At that point, marriage for gay Americans was not yet even imagined, but that didn’t matter to us. Our model was the love and commitment we saw between our own parents and in our own families. But the road from that day to our actually marrying in June 2008 was a long one:
- In 1988, we had a large ceremony before our family and friends at which, with vows we wrote, we reaffirmed our commitment.
- In 1994, at the Lesbian and Gay March on Washington, we participated in a symbolic wedding where it became evident that the possibility of legal marriage meant a lot to many, many people.
- In 2000, Vermont (Doug’s home state) became the first to offer civil unions, we again held a ceremony, with our four parents present, where our commitment was solemnized and recognized by a state government.
- Earlier that year, we had registered as California domestic partners under our state’s new law, which ultimately expanded to be nearly—but not quite—equal to marriage.
This May, when California’s Supreme Court determined that gay people were entitled to equal treatment under state law, we knew immediately we would marry and—having already had a big ceremony—we knew we would do it on the first day. So on June 17, Gianpiero’s parents, brother and sister served as witnesses at our wedding (Doug’s family lives on the east coast). In a moving ceremony, under an arbor in the park, we were pronounced spouses for life under California law. On that first day in West Hollywood alone, nearly 300 licenses were issued and 200 separate ceremonies were performed. Statewide, more than 11,000 same-sex marriages have been performed since.
Why is marriage important? Because it is equality—the full equality of being able to marry the person we love, just as our parents and siblings have done. It is the recognition in 2008 of the lifetime commitment we made twenty-five years ago. Doug and I are not “redefining” marriage. Rather, we are honoring and carrying forward the tradition and example set for us by our parents and society. If that isn’t a family value, we couldn’t say what is.
Since June, we have seen many couples marry. Like us, many of them have been together for decades. All of them—without exception—have said that being married feels different, even after so much time. What is different? The feeling of legal equality that, at the beginning, we never imagined. And the clarity that marriage provides to others. When you tell someone you are married in our society, it tells them without ambiguity that you intend to support each other and face life together as a team—a family—forever.
Equality under the law is not something for which people should have to wait half a lifetime. And we should not have to tell our younger friends, neighbors and relatives that equality was something gay people once had “back in ’08.” Equality should remain, and it should be ongoing. We must not write discrimination into California’s constitution. We must maintain the option of marriage for those young couples who, today, are the age we were in 1983. We must preserve it for people who come out five and ten years from now and for the people who maybe met last month, whose new friendships will someday evolve into love, partnership, and commitment.
Imagine the young person in California who comes out as gay or lesbian next year. What will we tell him or her? That gays were equal once upon a time but now are not? That they could once marry but now can’t? What kind of message of fairness and opportunity would victory for Prop 8 really send? Proponents have tried to hide Prop 8’s intent, claiming it is about schools. It is not. They know that if people talked about the initiative’s real effects–discrimination against love and commitment, singling out a large group of Californians for lesser treatment–they would lose.
If Prop 8 were to pass, no supporter’s happiness would remotely equal the heartbreak and disappointment of the thousands of couples who have wed in California and the tens of thousands of others who hope to do so. Having strangers vote on your marriage is an offensive and frustrating experience. There is a strong argument that marriages performed before election day would continue to be legal, but it’s something that would have to be tested and litigated. As far as we’re concerned, we will always be married, and we will always refer to ourselves as such. We will not allow any proposition or constitutional amendment to change that now.
We believe Prop 8 can and will be defeated. All Californians will have to acknowledge the fact that they have married neighbors and co-workers of the same gender (and judges and doctors and language teachers and aerospace engineers). California has not collapsed, and no one’s marriage has been affected on our account. No vote can make gay families disappear —we will still be here, still be gay, and still be families.
Please vote No on Prop 8 if you live in California. Constitutions should not be modified to eliminate rights or reduce equality—and that’s exactly what this would do. If you don’t live in California, thank you for reading our story, and please send this message to someone you know. Regardless of where you live, if you have not yet contributed to the campaign to fight this proposition, please consider doing so. It is not too late, and your contributions can make a difference in this final week. To donate, go to http://www.noonprop8.com.
Please protect Californians’ right to marry whomever they love. People willing to take on the responsibilities of a lifetime commitment should not need four ceremonies over 20 years. Please help retain the California constitution’s existing guarantee of equality and preserve the opportunity to take the step—marriage—to which our pledge back in 1983 naturally led us.
Gianpiero Doebler and Doug Bernard
For more about our own story, and for more pictures, go to:www.doebler.us