Berkeley celebrates historic Supreme Court decisions

Caption here
Berkeley Wednesday celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to allow same sex marriages in California. Shown here: the rainbow flag outside Berkeley City Hall on March 26 while the US Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments in the Prop. 8 case. Photo: Lance Knobel

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Wednesday allowing same sex marriages in California, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner got a text from her 31-year old daughter in New York. Sirona Skinner-Nixon and her girlfriend, Sinead O’Rourke, 34, had been glued to the news.

“Mom, we can get married at home,” Skinner-Nixon texted. “Happy tears when I read the headline.”

Tears almost rolled down Skinner’s cheeks as she read the message to a crowd that gathered Wednesday evening in front of Old City Hall to celebrate the Supreme Court’s two historic decisions impacting same-sex marriage.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner addresses a rally. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner addresses a rally outside Berkeley’s Old City Hall on Wednesday June 26. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Skinner recalled how Berkeley has played a central role in the fight for marriage equality, starting with her first day of her first term as a Berkeley city councilmember – either Dec. 1 or 2, 1984, said Skinner. On that day, the city passed a domestic partners ordinance, becoming the first city in the nation to do so.

“I am so happy we are having a celebration here in Berkeley,” said Skinner. “We have really come full circle.”


The small but spirited gathering, attended mostly by elected officials and City Hall insiders, was filled with moving personal testimonials about love, marriage, and the fight for equal rights.

City Councilman Darryl Moore told the crowd: “This is so exciting. I just can’t control myself.” He then showed off his 2008 marriage license to his husband, Bradley Johnson.

Moore said the Supreme Court ruling tossing out the Defense of Marriage Act meant that he would only have to file one tax return, not three.

Berkeley School Board Director Judy Appel told the crowd that she woke up at 6 a.m. on Wednesday and drove into San Francisco. She wanted to be at City Hall when the Supreme Court released its ruling on the legality of Prop. 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. There were about 400 people in the rotunda, all waiting to hear the news.

“It was amazing,” said Appel, who is also the director of the Our Family Coalition.

School Board member Beatrice Levy-Cutler said she will be marching in Sunday’s Pride parade in San Francisco in support of her gay son.

A small group gathered at Old City Hall on Wednesday to celebrate recent victories for marriage equality. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
A small group gathered at Old City Hall on Wednesday — including City Manager Christine Daniel and council members Jesse Arreguín and Kriss Worthington — to celebrate recent victories for marriage equality. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Berkeley City Manager Christine Daniel told the crowd that the day was “historic, groundbreaking, and thrilling.”

Daniel said she thinks she and her long-term girlfriend will now tie the knot. “We intentionally waited for this to be resolved at the federal level,” said Daniel.

Daniel also praised Berkeley for its warm embrace of the LGBT community. Berkeley’s early acceptance of gays and lesbians has made it a welcoming place to work and now there is a “vast network,” in the city, she said.

“It’s not unusual in Berkeley; it’s the norm,” said Daniel.

Berkeley School Board director Judy Appel addressed the rally. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Berkeley School Board director Judy Appel addressed the rally. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Berkeley’s role in the fight for gays to marry was a central theme at the rally. In 1996, City Councilman Kriss Worthington introduced a resolution supporting marriage equality. There was a lot of resistance and the resolution was delayed a year, but it finally passed on an 8-1 vote in 1997, said Worthington. (Margaret Breeland was the dissenting vote, he said.)

One of the plaintiffs in the court challenge to Prop. 8 , Kristin Perry, is from Berkeley. The city plans to honor her and her partner, Sandy Stier, by naming a day after them, said Worthington. The city council will consider the proclamation on July 16.

Worthington said that although he was pleased with Wednesday’s events, he does not think he and his partner, Martin Spence, will get married.

“We love each other and are happily committed to one another,” said Worthington. “I don’t think we have ever thought of having it sanctioned by government or religion.”

While there was a lot of happiness expressed Wednesday, there were words of caution. The Supreme Court did not make same sex marriage available to all.

“There are people in other states who do not have marriage equality,” said Moore. “The Supreme Court did not make the same rights we have in California available to them. We will not be free until they, too, have these freedoms.”

Moore and others also mentioned that the court’s rulings were not all good. Earlier in the week the court had decimated the Voting Rights Act.

But overall the mood at the rally was upbeat

“I am so proud to be in a community like Berkeley that cares about these issues and actually does something abut these issues,” said Mayor Tom Bates.

Related:
Obama lauds Berkeley couple who fought Prop 8 and won (06.26.13)
Berkeley marks Supreme Court cases with rainbow flag (03.26.13)
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)

Do you appreciate hearing about the news in your community through Berkeleyside’s work? If so, please consider becoming a supporter of Berkeleyside. Become part of the conversation. Help a local news site thrive.

Frances Dinkelspiel is co-founder and executive editor of Berkeleyside. Email: frances@berkeleyside.com.