After the U.S. Supreme Court decided Friday that same-sex marriage is a right guaranteed by the Constitution, members of the UC Berkeley LGBTQ community gathered on Sproul Plaza at noon to celebrate the landmark decision with music, an open mic, and each other.
The ruling, Obergefell v. Hodges, falls one day before the official Pride celebration in San Francisco in a community that has been rainbow-colored for weeks.
Alix Schwartz, a Berkeley resident, called it “a historic moment” and said the ruling will be compared to the 1968 case, Loving v. Virginia, that legalized interracial marriage. She said she was not surprised by the ruling.
“I was hopeful,” she said.
For Gregory “Gar” Russell, director of operations for Berkeley Law, excitement was the primary feeling.
“My husband called and I answered the phone going, ‘Woohoo!'” Russell laughed. It would have been great if the chief justice sided “on the right side of history,” he said, but the finer points of the ruling can be debated later.
“Everyone benefits from equality today,” he said.
Harry Stark, a Berkeley resident and a staff member in LavenderCal, a group for LGBTQ faculty at UC Berkeley, spoke about the relief of finally having the same rights as “95% of the country.”
“As a white male, to feel like a second-class citizen is ludicrous,” Stark said, noting his privilege in many other areas of his life. He was “overjoyed” to finally “be recognized by the federal government.”
Alex Gomez, an Oakland resident who attended the gathering, which was organized by the UC Berkeley Gender Equity Resource Center, called it “fantastic” and noted the coincidence of the date: 12 years ago today, he said, the Supreme Court struck down anti-sodomy laws across the country in the case Lawrence v. Texas.
Sharon Page-Medrich, executive assistant to the dean in UC Berkeley’s Graduate Division, spoke about the strong community of LGBTQ people at the university, and said she’s seen incredible progress since she first became involved with the equality movement in 1979, when she organized the first LGBTQ march in Washington, D.C.
“One of the greatest strengths in the UC Berkeley community is how many ‘out’ staff there are,” she said.
Amid the celebration, there were hints of a continuing fight for equality. Speakers related stories of Cal students who, after coming out to their families, were disowned or looked down on by their relatives and home communities. Earlier in the day a handful of people demonstrated their displeasure at the decision by hanging banners on the overpass across the I-80 freeway in Berkeley. One read: “Marriage = 1 man and 1 woman.”
Virginia Sorgi, a nurse at the University Health Services Tang Center, and a Berkeley resident, spoke at the open mic about the larger struggle for equality, mentioning the Black Lives Matter movement in particular, and talking about how court rulings have affected her family.
“My wife and I have been married four times,” Sorgi said, “never divorced.”
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Berkeley celebrates historic Supreme Court decisions (06.27.13)
Obama lauds Berkeley couple who fought Prop. 8 and won (06.26.13)
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Berkeley couple at heart of Prop 8 case speak out (08.05.10)
Berkeley couple at center of same-sex marriage trial (01.11.10)
Eden Teller, a junior at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, is a Berkeleyside summer intern. She is majoring in media and cultural studies and minoring in geology.
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