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    News in Depth

    Council Votes 9-0 To Direct Preparation Of Resolution Supporting Civil Marriage Licenses For Same Sex Couples; Exact Text Will Return To Council For Final Vote In Coming Weeks

    (October 11, 2006) -- With scant public testimony in opposition, the Long Beach City Council voted 9-0 on Oct. 10 to direct the City Attorney to prepare a resolution -- which will return for a final Council vote within the next few weeks -- supporting civil marriage licenses for same sex couples.

    The item, co-agendized by 2nd district Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal, Vice Mayor/1st dist Councilwoman Bonnie Lowenthal and 4th district Councilman Patrick O'Donnell, directs the City Attorney to prepare a resolution that would put CA's fifth largest city on record "in support of civil marriage licenses and any enactments which codify civil marriage equality for all couples residing in California who are citizens of the United States and requests our elected representatives in State and Federal government to act with vigor to develop laws to allow marriage equality for same sex couples, defend same sex civil marriages and protect the fundamental liberties of all families."

    Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal was the only Councilmember to speak directly to statewide voter approval of Proposition 22 in March 2000 (restricting marriage to unions between men and women)...which carried in Long Beach by a 56.8% "yes" (citywide) to 43.2% "no." (In L.A. County, Prop 22 had 58.6% voting "yes" and 41.4% voting "no"; in OC, "yes" votes were 69.2% to 30.8% "no.")

    Of Prop 22, Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal said:

    Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal: "[M]ajoritarian whims or prejudices are never sufficient to sustain a law that deprives individuals of fundamental rights, and it is our job as elected officials to end such deprivation. We have so many historical cases of discrimination across this country, where it was actually codified into law, and it was a society that evolved that brings us here today." [Extended excerpts below]

    Earlier in her remarks (extended transcript further below) Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal analogized efforts to legalize same-sex marriage to previous civil rights efforts.

    "I'm hopeful that the California Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court will stop this discrimination, similar to the way the U.S. Supreme Court ended, in 1967, the state's ability to ban interracial marriage." Councilwoman Lowenthal said, adding that while domestic partner laws have been necessary and important, the result is still "a two-tiered system that essentially says LGBT members need to be separate but equal. We remember when this nation said it was OK to educate in a manner that was separate but equal."

    6th district Councilwoman Laura Richardson (who in June 2004 voted against a proposed Council resolution to oppose a federal effort to define marriage nationwide as between a man and a woman) said she would support moving forward with the 2006 proposed Council resolution but said she'd "like to ask a favor" of her Council colleagues:

    Councilwoman Richardson: I would just ask respectfully from my colleagues of a little sensitivity. I happen to be a product of an inter-racial marriage, and when my parents married it was not legal at the time, and my mother and father had to carry around their marriage license to prohibit them from being put in jail or hung or something worse. So with all due respect, I would ask to indulge, I think, comparisons though of the Afircan-American community and some inter-racial issues, I don't necessarily see one and the same, and I respectfully ask for your diligence in understanding what that means, much like comparing Holocaust to something else, brings feelings amongst people, so I will so no more, but I just hope you understand what I mean by that comment...

    Councilwoman Richardson then offered comments supportive of proposed resolution and concluded:

    Councilwoman Richardson: ...In my district, I have a large amount of Baptist Ministers and over the years I've had many discussions with them of this particular issues. And because the public does not, I don't believe, have a copy of the resolution that was prepared [not by City Attorney's office] helps to deal with some of the misunderstandings and unfortunate comments that I've heard over the years on this issue...I guess this is a draft you're going to submit to the City Attorney? OK. And so one of the "whereas's" says "whereas providing equal access to civil marriage will not require religious institutions to perform or recognize marriages that conflict with their particular religious traditions or beliefs." And I think, unfortunately there has been a lot of misconceptions about what the resolution would require, and we need to do a better job of educating what we're asking for which is really civil rights and all the things that my colleagues did an excellent job of explaining...

    Following public testimony, Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal responded to Councilwoman Richardson's statement:

    Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal: ...[S]everal times today, I said that silence was collusion, and one of my colleagues earlier gave me a subtle chastising for referencing inter-racial marriages, and I'd like to address that, only because it matters.

    Often times, I think people forget who actually is speaking. Look at me. I am a person of color.

    I have suffered through discrimination that I don't speak about because it's not relevant. Does it impact how I address public policy? Absolutely. I take great umbrage when people behave as though they have a monopoly on suffering. Not one of us has a monopoly on suffering. And it is not until we share in the commonality of suffering that compassion can set in.

    That is what we as policymakers should do is embrace everyone's suffering. I certainly embrace yours, I embrace every person's suffering that has occurred behind this rail...

    ...It is irresponsible for us not to recall examples in history, it is our job to learn from history. If I recall the Holocaust, or if I recall anything, I would like the record to reflect it is not out of disrespect for anyone's individual suffering but it is out of my personal obligation to learn from history. I take my job as a policymaker very seriously. [applause].

    ...There is a commonality in suffering, whether we suffer the same or not, it doesn't matter, we must embrace it. And for anyone that believes that one kind of brown is not the same as all kind of brown, I hope that person reflects on that. That is inaccurate, we do not live in that kind of society.

    And I make this statement today because I truly believe I must set the boundaries on how I will be dealt with...

    6th district Councilwoman Richardson, elected in 2000 and reelected in 2004 (winning a multi-candidate race outright without a runoff) is widely expected to be exiting the Council with the November 2006 election...because she is the Democrat candidate for the 55th Assembly District (in the Democrat-drawn/Democrat voter dominated district).

    That means a special LB election will likely take place in early 2007 in LB's 6th district (central city) district...where LB's Ministerial Alliance has historically played a major role.

    The LB City Council's 2006 action comes amid escalating challenges to CA's ban on same sex marriages. In early 2004, the City/County of San Francisco defied Prop 22 and other CA laws banning same-sex marriages by issuing marriage licenses (subsequently invalidated by a court) contending the prohibition violates constitutional equal protection rights. On October 5, 2006, a state Court of Appeal ruled 2-1 that the "legislature and the voters of this state have determined that 'marriage' in California is an institution reserved for opposite-sex couples, and it makes no difference whether we agree with their reasoning...We may not strike down a law simply because we think it unwise or because we believe there is a fairer way of dealing with the problem." Proponents of same-sex marriage say they will now appeal to the CA Supreme Court.

    In their memo agendizing the latest Council item, Councilmembers Suja Lowenthal, Bonnie Lowenthal and Patrick O'Donnell wrote as background:

    The City of Long Beach is home to more than 80,000 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transvestite (LGBT) residents and families headed by same sex couples, the second largest LGBT community in the State of California (2000 U.S. Census) Like many families that choose to live in Long Beach, same sex couples value our city's commitment to the fair and equitable treatment of all persons regardless of gender or sexual orientation .

    They enjoy being part of the most diverse city in the United States and are proud to have their children enrolled in a nationally recognized school system . LGBT residents and families volunteer thousands of hours each year to their communities, churches, synagogues, schools and civic programs. They participate in the development of our local policies and programs improving the lives of every resident through their hard work and commitment to boards, commissions and elected office.

    In short, same sex couples live, work and play in Long Beach. Unfortunately, LGBT residents are prevented from sharing in every right and liberty promised to us by the United States Constitution and the California Constitution - namely, to receive the same protections as other couples or families under the laws of this land, including spousal rights and legal protection of medical, economic and property interests.

    The inability to access these legal protections has resulted in significant harm to these individuals and their families in the form of financial insecurity, deprivation of real property interests, lack of retirement and death benefits and lack of standing in access to family court for dissolution.

    It is an injustice upon every resident and community in the City of Long Beach when LGBT individuals and families may contribute to the fabric of our city, but not enjoy the liberties and protections provided to all persons regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

    Presenting the Council resolution makes good on a campaign pledge by Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal, elected to the 2d district Council seat in June 2006. We post an extended excerpt of her Council presentation:

    Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal: ...Is urging our elected officials to eliminate discrimination something this body should undertake? Our answer should be yes. This body regularly takes positions that impact citizens, residents of this city, such as urging our legislators to clean up the air. We have no jurisdiction to clean up the air; we have no jurisdiction to clean up the air but we do it, we step out and we urge them to do so.

    Silence is collusion...Had we been silent for decades on domestic violence because we thought it was an issue between intimate partners, we wouldn't have the protections we have today.

    The other question is should this body representing nearly a half a million people send a message to our legislature that they must end the discriminations against the LGBT's [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] right to marry. Our answer should be yes.

    I'm hopeful that the California Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court will stop this discrimination, similar to the way the U.S. Supreme Court ended, in 1967, the state's ability to ban interracial marriage.

    The prohibition against same sex marriages, just like the prohibition against inter-racial marriage, is unconstitutional discrimination. However, we must not wait for the courts to act, because in the meantime a group of people in our society are being denied the ability to engage in one of the most fundamental rights in society, and that's the right to marry.

    Therefore it is incumbent upon us to urge our elected officials to summon the courage to remedy this discrimination, to allow people to marry, to have marriages recognized by the state.

    Domestic partner laws have been necessary and important in conferring some rights and benefits to members of the LGBT community. However it's a two-tiered system that essentially says LGBT members need to be separate but equal. We remember when this nation said it was OK to educate in a manner that was separate but equal.

    It is time for us to do all that we can to end this discrimination.

    Another question: did the people pass Prop 22 in the year 2000? Absolutely. However, majoritarian whims or prejudices are never sufficient to sustain a law that deprives individuals of fundamental rights, and it is our job as elected officials to end such deprivation. We have so many historical cases of discrimination across this country, where it was actually codified into law, and it was a society that evolved that brings us here today.

    For instance, in the state of California, a person of south-asian background, such as myself, could not marry a Caucasian, that was by law, so that I may not own property. Was that the right thing to do? It certainly was the voters' intent. ..

    Other supportive Council statements followed:

    Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal [co-agendizer]: ...I think we have a rich history here in the city of Long Beach of breaking down barriers, and now it's another evening that we have that opportunity, and I would implore my colleagues to support this agenda item."

    4th district Councilman Patrick O'Donnell [co-agendizer]: "I've received many calls on this issue, some positive, some negative, and that's OK, that's everybody's civil right to do that...This for me is an issue of civil rights. Under the constitution, we are all to be treated equal. There should be fundamental rights for all families and I feel this resolution is a step in that direction..."

    9th district Councilman Val Lerch: Suja, you're right, that we do things about air quality, we do things about goods movement, but that affects everyone in this city, and I've always believed that these resolutions [that] do not affect everybody in the city should not be before us. However, may I say that I've given up that fight, that I know I'm not going to win it, that I'm tired of saying over and over again we don't need to be there. So I am going to stay, I am going to vote on these resolutions and not leave the room any more.

    With that said, I must state that for 34 years I have been on my knees in my Church every Sunday and have never missed a service on my own initiative...and I do have a faith that there is a God. I have a faith that my God is going to be the judger and it's not me. I don't make the judgement...It baffles me that the Church can either sanction a marriage or not, and it's their privilege, but we as a government will not allow an afford the rights of people who love each other as much as I love my wife for the last 34 years...I know there's people out there in the audience who've been with their spouses for 34 years, I know gay couples that have been together for 20, 25 years and have grandchildren together. And for us to deny them the same legal benefits, the same legal rights that my wife and I have, baffles me as a conscious person and I will support this.

    8th district Councilwoman Rae Gabelich: ...We have to embrace all diversity, all human beings. We are all created equal in the eyes of God, so I also will be casting my support tonight.

    13 members of the public spoke in support...including Rev. Jerry Stinson, Senior Minister of the First Congregational Church of Long Beach (United Church of Christ).

    "When the issue of marriage equality was discussed previously by this Council [in 2004], the Chambers were full of people reflecting one, single religious perspective: opposing that equality. I'm here today to make it clear that there are many, many religious people, many of us within Christianity, who support marriage equality and support the resolution you're considering tonight," Rev. Stinson said. "Marriage equality should be written into the law of any truly pluralistic society and then individual religious communities can choose for themselves whether they will bless all those legal unions."

    Others speaking in support included members of LB's LGBT community...including two LB women who came to the podium (one of whom spoke) and indicated they'd journeyed to San Francisco in 2004 and were married...only to have their marriage license subsequently quashed by the courts.

    One LB resident, Larry Goodhue, spoke against the resolution, contending that voting records "if cogently analyzed and extrapolated" show LB's non-heterosexual population is "4.6%." His opinion prompted snickers from audience members...and LB Mayor Bob Foster cautioned the audience for decorum. Mr. Goodhue continued, "Even if you were to double it for the sake of error, that is only rounded off to 10%. That does not constitute a prima facie case to overturn 2,000 years of history." [more audible snickers]. "You were elected to represent the second estate, not the first estate...The people did not elect you to establish a spiritual supremacy."

    Later, another member of the public (who said he hadn't planned to speak) subsequently came to the podium and commented critically on the audience conduct.

    The Oct. 10 Council item came just days after a San Francisco Court of Appeal upheld CA's voter-approved ban on same sex marriage (Prop 22)...which defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

    In June 2004, a proposed Council resolution that would have put LB on record against the Federal Marriage Act that would define marriage in all states as between a man and a woman, failed on a 4-4 vote. At that time, multiple members of LB's clergy attended and spoke in opposition. 7th district Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga referred to the former vote in her Council comments:

    Councilwoman Reyes Uranga: ...I gotta say, Long Beach, you've come a long way baby. [applause]...I remember a couple of years ago when we had the Chambers filled with busloads of people from good churches, good people from good churches, and of the 11 clergymen that spoke, close to eight of them were from the 7th district...But I have to say that I'm comin' out. I'm a heterosexual married to a male and I am a Catholic, and because of who I am I know that I value families. And if you do not have strong families in this city, then our city does not become strong. And this motion tonight really ensures that families of all kinds are preserved and are strong. [applause] And so because of who I am, and because of what I stand for and the fact that we do go to Church and we do understand what it means to have a unit, no matter what it looks like, take care of children, take care of each other, the bottom line is what they told us from above: love each other as we love ourselves and that's exactly what I think is happening here...

    Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske: ...The issue here today is should the City Council expressing its sense that government, its laws and its constitution should not be used to interfere in the personal relationship of two human beings, nor should government specifically focus on the rights of a small minority...

    So why should it matter to any of the nine of us whether or not the state or the federal government takes action on the issue of civil marriage?...Today, this is an important issue because it is both a legislative and a personal issue. Some will say that it's a moral or religious issue, and I will tell you this is not a religious issue...We are not a religious body.

    When we took our oath of office, we swore to protect and defend a civil constitution of this state and this country, constitutions which as written presently prevent legal discrimination against any citizen. It is therefore our duty that discrimination ends, and that it's certainly not written into documents or into law. Our silence would be unforgivable...

    ...For the eight of us who love someone of the opposite sex, this act today may have little personal significance, unless of course the eight of you are like so many Americans that are out here that have a family and a circle of friends which includes gays and lesbians, and this is why you know it's important that the relationships of these people in your lives have, they need to be considered not less worthy, not less important, not less deserving of legal protection than the relationships of others.

    ...And they have loving relationships that they wish to be acknowledged by a civil marriage. And for my friend in the Third Council district [Councilman DeLong] who I don't know how he's going to vote, I need to tell you Gary that when lesbian couples do web, one of the most coveted wedding gifts for them is a gift certificate to Home Depot. [loud laughter]...

    As the one person on this Council to whom this issue has the most personal significance, let me say this. The issue of my having a loving, committed relationship with my partner Flo for 26 years has been made fodder for political hit pieces and anonymous phone calls and whisper campaigns....all warning of the gay agenda that I would bring to this family.

    Those attacks have hurt me and they've hurt my family, particularly because they've come from political opponents of my own political party who at the same time they were attacking me, sought the support of the gay and lesbian community.

    So I would ask my colleagues tonight that if you support this issue, that you also pledge never to use a political opponent's personal relationship as an issue in your campaign [applause] and that you will step forward and speak out if and when any of your colleagues ever do that again.

    I am sure that much will be made of my vote today on this issue but I want to tell you, it's a vote that is motivated on the same basis that I cast as a member of the City Council. I make this vote in favor of this resolution because it's the right thing to do. [applause]

    LB Mayor Bob Foster added just before the vote:

    Mayor Foster: Before we go to a vote, obviously most of you know, the Mayor does not vote on the Council...[but] I do want to say something very simply...

    ...I too am a student of history, and it's been alluded to by Councilwoman Lowenthal and by Councilwoman Schipske. The march of human history is in fact to expand human liberty and to preserve human dignity. I believe that. We're not there yet but we're getting there.

    We're not there yet but we're getting there, and this is one element of it. And what is this really about? This is about, as has been said, members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, our friends, our neighbors, our fellow citizens...this is a very divisive issue. It need not be. It should not be. And it must stop. We have to be united as a city.

    What are we talking about? We're talking about two people who are trying to find happiness in a commitment together. They want to experience the same simple everyday decisions, privileges, joys and hardships that all of us are free to experience. That's what this is about.

    To me, it's simple equity and it's simply right.

    The motion carried 9-0. The Council Chamber erupted in cheers and applause.

    The text of the resolution will now be prepared by the City Attorney's office...and will return to the City Council for another vote in a week or so.

    Related coverage:

  • Vice Mayor B. Lowenthal, Councilmembers S. Lowenthal & O'Donnell Seek Resolution Supporting Civil Marriage Licenses For Same Sex Couples

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