The Prop. 8 March in Santa Rosa: Yes We Will

Just got back from downtown Santa Rosa, where thousands of people demonstrated and marched today in Santa Rosa against Proposition 8, the initiative passed last week which stripped same-sex couples of their constitutional right to marry in the State of California. The enormous crowd, as diverse as it was well-behaved, was a beautiful sight of relief for anyone crushed by the passage of Prop. 8.

If there’s any silver lining to the dark, sinister gut-punch that is Prop. 8, it’s that people, finally, are starting to get it. They’re understanding that “Protect Marriage” is a hollow slogan of fear, a preposterous implication that the institution of marriage is somehow being threatened by the inclusion of same-sex couples. They’re understanding that they have nothing to lose whatsoever simply by spreading a little happiness around to couples who so desperately want it.

Like so many others, I had a hard time celebrating on Election Night because of Prop. 8. And yet even the next morning, I knew that hope was not lost. We will win this. Patience, diligence, and education are the order of the day. Even the Mormon Church’s $20 million can’t change the fact that love will prevail. Keep in mind, too, that the younger generation is firmly on the side of equality. To them, marriage for all is a self-evident right, the way it should be.

It’s becoming clear that the passage of Prop. 8, disheartening though it is, has actually created a movement inching ever closer to its goal. In the week before the election, only 50 or so people stood with “No on 8” signs in front of Costco in Santa Rosa; an even smaller crowd stood outside the Republican Headquarters in Petaluma.

Today in downtown Santa Rosa, the crowd numbered well over 2,000, stretching out to three blocks long along the sidewalk.

Think about it: This happened in cities all over America today.

I stopped and talked to ten different groups of people along the parade route. Here are their stories.

Rachel Minor and Cindy Meyers came to the downtown march from their home in Cotati. As Minor’s sign states, the two have been together for sixteen years. They were finally married at San Francisco City Hall, at the top of the stairs under the giant rotunda, on July 17, 2008. Before the march started in Courthouse Square, they were quick to point out that they weren’t marching just for themselves. “We’re here for everyone,” Meyers said, “because discrimination is wrong.”

James Lowell, Jr., Madeline LeJune and Kim Lofgren are all from Santa Rosa. When asked why they came to the march, LeJune immediately got excited. “To support James!” she said—“Just because we’re straight, it doesn’t matter!” Lowell said he “absolutely” wants to be married one day, and he’s hoping that the law will be overturned by at least 2010. Lofgren, holding a sign saying “What Is There To ‘Protect’?,” was into the idea. “We want to be his bridesmaids!” she said.

Jesse Olsen and Phyllis Beals made their entrance on the already-crowded block playing “Cantaloupe Island” with the Hubbub Marching Band. After some demurring over whether the band needed a permit or not, the Hubbub Marching Band enlivened the march with hits like “Bubamara,” “When The Saints Go Marching In,” and “Down By The Riverside.” Beals spoke for the whole band when she said that “we’re all against Proposition 8. We want to support the people here. We all feel the same way.”

Ali Anderson and Megan Rincon are friends, both from Santa Rosa. Rincon was as direct as could be when it came to Prop. 8: “It’s about human rights!” she said. “How the hell did this thing get on the ballot to begin with?!” Anderson, who married her girlfriend in Helen Putnam Park in Petaluma just weeks before the election, has now seen her marriage discredited by the state. “We had that feeling that something was going to go amiss with the election,” she said, “and we wanted to take advantage of our rights while we still had them.”

Adrienne Peters from Petaluma came here with her son, Akasha, and her mother, Kate. She couldn’t claim credit for altering the sign to “OVERTURN on Prop. 8”—the idea came from a friend (it did, however, prompt a teenage boy to joke that “if you turn over an ‘8,’ it’s still an ‘8’”). As a gay woman once married in California, Peters more than understands the differences between domestic partnerships and actual marriage. Having to explain a domestic partnership is like parsing an algebra equation; a marriage is the rightful way to go, Peters says with all the simplicity in the world, “because it’s recognized.”

Clair Mancuso and Skaidra Smith-Heisters, both straight, have been holding signs against Prop. 8 both before and after Election Day. They’ve witnessed first-hand the sort of unlikely support that the issue has raised. Standing on a street corner holding a sign for hours, Smith-Heisters relates, “you would make this snap judgment, like, ‘Oh, these people are gonna say something nasty.’ But then they’d honk, and be completely supportive, and they’d thank us for being out there.”

Ana Gefuert, from Petaluma, and Heidi Knittel, from Windsor, stood across from Santa Rosa City Hall, getting more excited as the day went on. “I’m here for my sister,” said Knittel, “who’s been with her partner for more than a decade.” The two were thrilled at the massive crowds, the gales of support and the relative little opposition. Gefuert was direct in her reasons for being at the march: “I believe that everyone deserves to have their love and commitment recognized by the state.”

Walt Chesbro and Rebecca Trevino from Santa Rosa joined Grace Flannery and Glenda Humiston of Novato in front of the Roxy Theater. Flannery and Humiston were married on Oct 24, 2008, after being together a year and a half. “We’re not one of those couples that’s been together for 20 years,” said Flannery, “but still, we thought we had a lot of time.” Chesbro, the brother of former State Senator Wes Chesbro, carried an American flag with him. “The American flag has been stolen for a long time by the right wing of this country,” Chesbro said. “And I think in this election, we’ve gotten it back. We’re just as patriotic and we love this country just as much as everyone else.”

Teresa Stockton, Anthony Agrisula, Hayley Davidowski and their friend Damian all came from Rohnert Park with handmade signs. Agrisula’s sign illustrated just how conservative the idea of marriage, be it gay or straight, actually is: “Homosexual Agenda: Spend Time With Family. Be Treated Equally. Buy Milk.” Stockton said she had no idea the march would be so enormous—and loud. “I think it’s amazing, the support,” she said, “especially from the cars going by.”

Dan Kirby, from Santa Rosa, arrived at the march on the Hennepin Crawler, a large handmade vehicle he and his friends built for the Handcar Regatta earlier this year. Though he wore a clown suit, he was anything but silly in his reasons for being at the march on the large, eye-catching contraption. “This bike always garners attention,” he said, “so we’re down here to support our brothers and sisters in freedom. Prop. 8 doesn’t just hurt gays and lesbians. It hurts everybody.”

Sonoma County Library