Korean American Ryan Garner-Carpenter, 27, walked down Market Street at SF
Pride, a new man of options.
Ask him what he’s into and he’ll say leather and whips.
But if he was into all things bondage before last week, now he can add something
new–the right to marry.
For gay Asian Americans like Ryan, this right is now protected by the
And he has this man to thank.
Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the historic case that made same-sex
marriage legal in all 50 states, was riding high as the honored guest at
Sunday’s San Francisco Pride parade.
The celebratory weekend began early for Obergefell on Friday when the Supreme
Court delivered its historic 5-4
decision. It was punctuated by
a congratulatory call from President Obama.
“Not only have you been a great example for people,” the president said to
Obergefell, “but you also brought about a lasting change in this country, and
that’s pretty rare when that happens.”
Let’s hope it lasts.
Obergefell challenged Ohio’s same-sex marriage ban and went to Maryland to get
married. But when he returned to his home state, Ohio still didn’t honor his
The Supreme Court fixed that by saying that the right to marry applies
everywhere in the U.S.
Justice Anthony Kennedy’s ruling on same-sex marriage made reference to Loving v. Virginia—the
1967 ruling that lifted all bans on interracial marriage. It played a key part
in his decision.
“A first premise of the Court’s relevant precedents is that the right to
personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual
autonomy,” Kennedy said. “This abiding connection between marriage and liberty
is why Loving invalidated interracial marriage bans under the Due Process
The other half of the argument was based on the equal protection clause of the
But it was the liberty argument that sealed the deal.
NYU Law professor Kenji Yoshino called it one of the things that was really
clever about the Kennedy opinion.
“He could have gone on equality grounds, but he primarily rested on liberty
grounds,” said Yoshino to CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “If you go on equality grounds,
you can either level up or level down. You can say we’re not issuing marriage
licenses to anyone, or we’re issuing them to everyone. Once you say there’s a
fundamental right, as Kennedy did in his majority opinion, you can’t level down
Yoshino said challenges to the ruling were unlikely to prevail, and that calls
for constitutional amendments were “utopian arguments.” He also said that
proposed statutes to protect religion from its conflicts with gay marriage won’t
work either, given the precedent established by Kennedy’s decision.
In many ways, the plight of Obergefell was not much different from that of Asian
Americans at the turn of the 20th century, when anti-miscegenation laws were
bigoted responses to prevent marriage to whites. These laws forced many Asian
Americans to cross state lines to marry. It wasn’t until 1967 that the Loving
case made interracial marriage legal in all 50 states.
Just as the old laws on race and marriage wreaked havoc on the personal
histories of my extended Filipino family, my cousin Pauline experienced the
history of same-sex marriage firsthand.
In 2003, Pauline “married” her spouse, Jill Togawa, in San Francisco, when civil
unions were seen as the solution of the day. Was it a wedding? It sure looked
like it to me.
It was the height of the really bigoted rhetoric about same-sex marriage.
As a public service, I suggested that people go to a gay or lesbian wedding to
understand what it was all about.
In 2003, I wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle:
“If you’re blessed to experience one, as I was to attend my cousin Pauline’s,
all you notice is the love. And then you can see for yourself how hateful,
intolerant and discriminatory this madness over marriage really is.”
But Pauline wasn’t done.
In 2004 in San Francisco, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom took a stand, and despite
little support from national political groups–gay or straight–the city allowed
legal marriages to take place. Pauline and Jill got married again.
In 2008, when California recognized the right to marry, Pauline and Jill married
a third time.
But then they moved to Hawaii, where marriage was illegal.
In 2010, Pauline and Jill decided to become one of the plaintiffs to challenge
Hawaii’s law. But that was derailed when the legislature acted and same-sex
marriage was ultimately made legal in 2013.
When the Supreme Court decided the Obergefell case, it was still early in the
“I just felt a sense of peace,” she told me from Honolulu when I called her.
The San Francisco parade was a slightly more raucous.
Whenever news coincides with Pride as it did in 2013, when the appeal of Prop. 8
failed and weddings resumed in California, it’s always a bit more electric.
This year, there were more than 200 marching units, with Asian Americans well
represented, especially among employee groups of the biggest high-tech firms in
the world, such as Google, Yahoo, and Facebook.
Most of the marchers were young, and considering how millennials are less likely
to be married these days, it’s hard to imagine if the marriage fight really
But they shouldn’t confuse marriage rights with full equality. The fight for
same-sex marriage was just one small part of a more comprehensive fight for
equal rights for the LGBTQ community.
In states like Tennessee, discrimination in jobs and housing can still occur
against LGBTQ people. While at least 22 states have some laws that protect
against discrimination, the vast majority of states do not.
And so the party ends.
But the fight for justice never does.
All photos by Emil Guillermo.