Celebrating a landmark civil rights victory in the land of Nixon and Reagan

Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse - Santa Ana, CA

Orange County California has a reputation as one of the more conservative counties in California. Most of the crazy right-wing conservative stuff comes from here. In 1978 we had Proposition 6, the Briggs Initiative, that proposed to ban all homosexuals from being teachers, fast forward 30 years later, Orange County gave birth to another discriminatory Ballot Initiative, Proposition 8, which overturned the 2008 State Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in California.

Proposition 8 was promoted by fundamentalist Christians and funded primarily by the Mormon Church out of Utah. Like with the Briggs Initiative, their entire campaign was based not upon a compelling reason for the state to deny civil rights of a particular class of people, rather it was based upon the fear of homosexuality and that it might be taught in public schools. The proponents of Prop 8 claimed that marriage was a religious institution that was traditionally the right of only heterosexual (opposite-gender) relationships. They argued that the foundation of marriage would disintegrate if same-gender couples were permitted to marry. This was the same argument used before bans on interracial marriages were lifted by the Supreme Court in 1967.

So Wednesday, August 4, 2010 was a particularly special day for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. On this day Federal Court Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled in Perry vs. Schwarzenegger that the denial of full marriage rights to same-sex couples violates the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. Walker found that the denial of marriage to same-gender couples violated both the guarantee of equal protection and due process and was therefore unconstitutional. 

In the conclusion of his ruling Judge Walker found that: 

“Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.” 

As expected, the right wing pundits and politicians squealed like stuck little piggies. 

“It is an outrage that one arrogant and rogue federal judge can take it upon himself to overturn a centuries-old definition of marriage and family,” said the Rev. Lou Sheldon, chairman of the Anaheim-based Traditional Values Coalition. “(Walker) has completely undermined the expressed will of voters at the ballot box. Direct democracy has been blatantly attacked today.” 

“This is a radical action, attempting to throw out the vote of the people and change the rules after the fact.,’’ said Assemblyman Van Tran, R-Westminster. “The battle for the merits of Proposition 8 is over,” continued Tran. “We had an open, fair election of Proposition 8 and it was passed by California’s voters in a historic election. The judiciary must learn to respect those results.” 

I find it particularly interesting that Assemblyman Tran, on the same day that he sent out a mass email claiming that his opponent Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez has done little to promote or support religious freedoms and human rights in Vietnam, would choose to object so strongly to the reversal of similar human rights abuses at home. 

Decision Day Rally in Santa Ana, CA

The Orange County Rally in Sasscer Park in the shadow of the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse drew a respectable crowd, about 200 people, of LGBT community members and their supporters. They all seemed to recognize that this decision is merely another step, on the long road, to marriage equality for LGBT Americans. They understood that immediately after this brief celebration of a civil rights victory, they will have to get back to work. They know that they cannot just sit by and wait for equality to come to them; they must continue to fight for equality until that right is guaranteed. 

The decision by Judge Walker should not be viewed, as so many Prop 8 proponents seem to claim, as an “activist judge” overturning the will of the people. We must continue to remind these people that our laws are specifically meant to protect the rights of minorities from the tyranny of majorities. It is the responsibility of our legal system to ensure that public passions and irrational fears do not deprive individuals of their rights under our federal Constitution. 

In contrast to the rhetoric offered by Westminster Assemblyman Van Tran, I was pleased that at least one elected official in Orange County showed up to demonstrate his support for LGBT civil rights and marriage equality. That one elected official was Santa Ana Councilman David Benavides. His presence at the rally was in stark contrast to the false portrayal of Mr. Benavides as a supporter of “racists” and “haters” promoted by former Santa Ana Planning Commissioner, an appointee of Councilman Sal Tinajero, Sean H. Mill. Mr. For the past several weeks Mill and Orange Juice Blog syncophant Art Pedroza, has been vilifying Benavides for recognizing the contributions of a committee of Santa Ana residents who hosted a Fourth of July Celebration in Santa Ana because a few of the committee members have in their opinion expressed racist and anti-illegal immigrant views. 

LGBT Activist Jeff LeTourneau (left) and Santa Ana City Councilman David Benavides (right)

I’ve got to ask, if Mr. Benavides is such a “hater” then why was he the only member of the Santa Ana City Council to attend Wednesday’s rally? Where was Councilman Tinajero, who so dramatically walked out of a City Council meeting because of his opposition to recognizing the hosts of the Fourth of July celebration? Where was Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez who also stormed out of that same meeting? Where was their syncophant Sean H. Mill?

I have been on the receiving end of hateful, homophobic, and AIDS-phobic comments and emails from Sean H. Mill. I previously assumed that Council members Tinajero and Alvarez did not support those views expressed by Mr. Mill. Based upon their epic failure to even show up, I have to wonder if I was wrong to give that benefit of doubt. 

My point is that we should be wary and suspicious of those who toss around accusations of racism, bigotry, and hatred as political fodder. Usually the ones firing the shots have the most to gain from distracting our attention.

  13 comments for “Celebrating a landmark civil rights victory in the land of Nixon and Reagan

  1. Gary Lorentzen
    August 5, 2010 at 11:46 am

    As the Judiciary is constitutionally independent and is mandated to review majority legislation for its compliance with the Constitution, the notion that the Judiciary must ‘respect’ the will of the people as it is expressed through law is ridiculous. Its job is to review any contested legislation using the Constitution as the litmus test for legitimacy. Judge Walker did that and decided Prop 8 violated Section 1 of the 14th Amendment, otherwise known as the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses. If there is any question as to what that is, it reads as follows: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

    It seems pretty cut and dry to me. Prop 8 rescinded the legal right of one group of gays to get married, yet allowed another group to remain married. The law, as written, was blatantly unconstitutional in reference to the 14th Amendment.

    • August 5, 2010 at 1:51 pm

      Your comment is spot-on. One main purpose of the Judial Branch of our government is to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. This decision is a classic example of precisely that. It is ironic that the right-wing nuts are bemoaning the “tyranny” of one judge.

      A cursory reading of his decision reveals what many trial observers thought: the proponents of Prop 8 did a piss-poor job of defending it, though Judge Walker doesn’t say it in exactly those words.

      His decision was based on facts — the evidence (or lack thereof on the part of the proponents) presented at trial — and on the law. It is true that his decision could be reversed but some legal minds think that doing so might be a real challenge since so much of his decision was fact-based. Time will tell.

  2. August 5, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    Are you serious. The event is in Santa Ana and no one from the city council showed up other than Benavides? Does this mean they hate gays and lesbians?

  3. Steve
    August 5, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    Nice to see you rally behind Mr. Benavides. And rightfully so. He demonstrates a profound ability to work ACROSS apparent divisions and at least TRY to bring people together for the good of ALL of Santa Ana, whereas all Mill and Pedroza can do is CREATE and nurture divisions and strife.

  4. Steve
    August 5, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    Also, where was the recently-reconstituted “man of the downtrodden and oppressed”, Mayor Miguel Pulido? I mean, c’mon.

  5. August 5, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    Hey Sean Mill — read your post..what do you think Sal Tinajero would say about the homophobic and nasty emails you’ve sent to Chris over the past year or so. Or the comments about Vietnamese being exposed to Agent Orange or raped by Pirates? And what about hoping Claudio’s kids have their mothers superior DNA compared to his; is that because he’s half-Latino? Hateful statements that smack of bigotry and racism even if they are directed at a single person…and Sal honored you at City Hall did he not?

  6. August 5, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    Poor Sean Mill, he just doesn’t like it when someone calls him on his B.S. Mill has responded to my commentary by alleging that Councilman Benavides was pandering to the LGBT community by attending the Prop 8 Decision Day Rally.

    He has somehow got it in his twisted little mind that because he honored a committee that had on it people whom he does not always agree with means that he shares all of their beliefs. He has got this absurd notion that Councilman Benavides is a “hater” and no evidence to the contrary will convince him otherwise.

    Mill seems to feel that if supporters of Councilman Benavides believe something, that he obviously must agree with them. If that were the case then Council Members Tinajero and Alvarez could justifiably be accused of sharing Mill’s homophobic and HIV/AIDS-phobic views.

    Sal Tinajero has repeatedly said to me that he is not responsible for what Sean H. Mill writes and does not have any control over what he writes, says, or believes. You would think that Mill would understand that if he wants to assign responsibility for the actions or beliefs of Lupe Moreno and Rosie Avila to Councilman Benavides, because they may have supported him or served on a committee he nominated for city recognition; then that same level of responsibility can be justifiably assigned to Councilmembers Tinajero and Alvarez because they embrace the support of people such as Art Pedroza and Sean H. Mill.

    Sean, simply put, shut up while you are behind.

  7. Steve
    August 5, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    “Sal Tinajero has repeatedly said to me that he is not responsible for what Sean H. Mill writes and does not have any control over what he writes, says, or believes.”

    Can you say “cop-out”? Very weak.

    If Sal had an ounce of integrity, he’d call Sean on his over-the-top, innuendo-laden smear campaign. As a good friend, he’d sit him down and call him on it. But he doesn’t, does he?

    What does that say about Sal?

  8. Jeff LeTourneau
    August 6, 2010 at 9:53 am

    Having spent alot of time with David Benevides at the rally, I can assure you he was not there to pander to the crowd. He arrived unannounced and quietly spoke with many of the participants,in both English and Spanish,listening to their stories and concerns. He did not ask to speak but I approached the event organizer and asked that as the city had bent over backwards to facilitate the production of the last min rally (thank you Dave, Darren and Audrey) he be allowed a thirty second opportunity to welcome us to SA. After being rudely and naively rebuffed David remained at the rally for sime time before finally departing for a family event that he had placed on hold because he thought it was important that he be at the rally.We need to remember that SA was the only City in OC to pass a Harvey Milk Day Proclamation and that David is the ONLY SA Councilmember to have publicallly endorsed Gavin Newson. We must also remember that while rallys,(and this was a great one) flag waving, storey telling etc are all vital parts of our movement, the reality is that the is THE POLITCAL BATTLE OF OUR LIFETIMES! We can ill afford to offend public officials who against all political wisdom, stand by our fight for marriage equality. I would be proud to have David as my Councilmember and only wish OC had many more just like him

    • Dan Chmielewski
      August 6, 2010 at 10:06 am

      Thanks Jeff. So much for Sean Mill’s post

    • Paul Cook-Giles
      August 6, 2010 at 10:52 am

      Jeff, I asked that David be recognized for his presence and support, and gave his name to at least two different people for that purpose. When the MC got to that point, he somehow didn’t have David’s name. I’ve written him a note ( dbenavides@santa-ana.org) expressing my appreciation for his attendance, and encourage you (and everyone else) to do the same.

      Paul Cook-Giles,
      Santa Ana

      • Jeff LeTourneau
        August 6, 2010 at 11:36 am

        Thank You Paul!Im sure he will get many responses to your request!

  9. James Suazo
    August 7, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    Great article Chris. Very well put!

Comments are closed.