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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Supreme Court to Review Prop. 8; Couple Postpones Marriage Plans

Two female psychologists in West Hollywood postponed their wedding plans when the U.S. Supreme Court announced Friday, December 7 it will review California’s Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage.

Two female psychologists in West Hollywood postponed their wedding plans when the U.S. Supreme Court announced Friday, December 7 it will review California’s Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage.

If the court had decided not to see the case, the California Supreme Court’s ruling that struck down Proposition 8 would have stood, and same-sex marriage would have become legal. The women still plan to marry as soon as they can.

“Maybe it’s because I want to marry my best friend, maybe it’s because we’ve waited for so long, or maybe it’s because I want to be part of the movement,” Amanda di Bartalomeo, Regina Chopp’s fiancée, said of the couple’s decision. Chopp, a psychology professor at the University of Southern California, said they want to go to the courthouse and marry the day it becomes legal to join the gay community, come out in big numbers, and share an anniversary with thousands of other couples.  

Opponents to gay marriage say they want marriage to be between a man and a woman., a group that supports traditional marriage, could not be reached for comment, but said in a statement in July: “Marriage between a man and a woman has been the cornerstone of our society for millenniums.”

A USC student who lives on the university’s Rainbow Floor, for gay students and allies, said he doesn’t think this argument is convincing. “If gay people were to be married, it wouldn’t affect traditional marriage,” sophomore Norman Chootong said.

The Supreme Court’s decision about Proposition 8 could make banning gay marriage in any state unconstitutional, but marriage and divorce have typically been issues of state law. However, the federal government enacted the Defense of Marriage Act (more commonly known as DOMA) in 1996. DOMA denies federal benefits to same-sex couples. Several cases against the law have been appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court announced earlier this month it will also rule on the constitutionality of DOMA. The court’s decision could give, or more permanently deny, homosexual couples rights to the federal benefits of marriage, including filing joint tax returns and Social Security benefits for a partner who outlives his or her spouse.  

“When one of us dies, we don’t want such high property taxes that the other is forced to move out of our home,” di Bartalomeo said. She said they’ve already felt the cost of not being married over the summer, when they had to pay high taxes on health insurance because Chopp was between jobs.

In Michigan, one gay couple says they too want the legal benefits of marriage, but they traveled to New York to marry for emotional, as well as practical, reasons. The legal benefits don’t apply while they live in Michigan, but they hope someday same-sex marriage will be legal throughout the United States, and their marriage license will be valid in their home state. “As time progresses, especially with this past election, more states will legalize it,” Vanessa Dozeman, of the couple, said. “So, over time, it will mean that we’ll be able to share standard marriage benefits.”

Unlike Chopp and di Bartalomeo, Dozeman and her partner Ms. M (who asked not to be named) don’t plan to go to the courthouse the day it becomes legal, Dozeman said. Ms. M is a middle school principal, and in Michigan she could legally be fired for being gay. “We do not have any rights in legislation,” Dozeman, who is self-employed, said. “We are not protected here, not in this state.”

Michigan’s civil rights law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. “I talk to some people, and they think they’re protected,” Ms. M said. “But they aren’t.”

Dozeman said she and Ms. M have had to adjust their lives and relationship because they aren’t safe from discrimination. “For myself, it would be great to do,” Dozeman said of marrying publicly when it becomes legal. “But given [my partner’s] status and the region we’re in, there’s a cynical side of me that is afraid to put her in that position.”

The couple wanted to marry despite the risks. They flew to New York in September of 2011 to officially marry in a courthouse in Manhattan. When they returned to Michigan, they celebrated with a somewhat-traditional wedding ceremony at their home. “We just threw a big party, it was very informal,” Dozeman said.

For Chopp and di Bartalomeo, the wedding is half the reason they want to get married. “We want the big party,” di Bartalomeo said. “We want all of our friends to celebrate with us.”

“And say nice things about us,” Chopp added with a laugh.                               

The couple said their marriage will not be religious. A catholic USC student said it’s unlikely her church will perform gay marriages even if it becomes legal. “I think gay people should have the same legal rights as straight people, but, in the church, marriage is between a man and a woman to produce children,” sophomore Elaine Krebs said. “It’s not my place to change the church.”

Other USC students say they’ve taken a more proactive stance on the issue. “Just being an out gay person in a place where people might not know one helps,” senior and Resident Assistant Kevin Steen said. “If they can see us as people, maybe they won’t vote against us.”

Chootong said this problem and its simple solution is why gay marriage will probably become legal in his lifetime. “The reason so many people are anti-gay is because they haven’t met a gay person before,” he said. “Now that the media is portraying more gay people, I think change will happen.”

Regardless of when it becomes legal, Chopp and di Bartalomeo don’t expect their marriage to change their relationship. “We’ve been together six years,” di Bartalomeo said. “There’s not going to be any magic that happens when the marriage license is signed.”

Dozeman said her relationship with Ms. M did change when they married. “It made it easier for my family to recognize that I am seriously committed to our relationship,” Dozeman said. “It helped them go through the process of accepting [my partner] into our family. That was really important, especially for my mom and dad.”

The Supreme Court will rule on Proposition 8 and DOMA by June of next year.

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