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Proposition 8 Ruling Bittersweet
Op-Ed from President Russell S. Roeca

May 29, 2009 -- San Francisco-- When installed as president of The Bar Association of San Francisco, I described my feelings post election 2008 as "bittersweet."

How proud I was our state overwhelmingly helped elect President Obama, yet how incredibly sad it was to see this same state vote to eliminate a group of people’s civil rights, my rights, with the passage of Proposition 8. It was a classic case of the majority imposing its will over the rights of a minority.

Since November, The Bar Association of San Francisco has worked hard to get Prop. 8 overturned, and submitted a brief along with 40 bar associations and legal organizations up and down the state in favor of the petitioners. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court in its wisdom declined to strike down Prop. 8.

Yes, the times continue to be bittersweet, particularly given the court’s avowed allegiance to and affirmation of its findings in In Re Marriage Cases, and the surreal position members of the LGBT community find themselves today in light of the restrictions of Prop. 8 and this court’s holding. Those of us who are married are an anomaly in the societal structure.

I am profoundly disappointed with the decision to uphold Prop. 8 and disagree with a decision that allows the tyranny of the majority to enshrine in the state Constitution discrimination against a minority, against an acknowledged suspect class of citizens. I am deeply saddened by a decision that denies those citizens fundamental rights, equal rights, profound rights as eloquently recognized by this court previously. Yet, I must respect the process.

I respect the court. I respect our system of jurisprudence. I respect the rule of law. It is paramount that we support and encourage the independence and impartiality of the courts.

That said, we at The Bar Association of San Francisco remain optimistic that this setback too shall pass. Here is why.

We have watched a rapid evolution in thinking across the country over the past six months. We have seen Iowa, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont, and soon New Hampshire, taking steps to acknowledge and embrace equal rights for all citizens. I fully expect that the people of California will come to appreciate that by only a very narrow majority, the voters wrote into our Constitution for the first time an amendment that denies minority equal rights under the law. It is an offensive concept, pure and simple. Frankly, I think people were caught off guard when Prop. 8 passed. But we live in a beautiful state where diversity flourishes. I believe this wrong will be righted. And I as one will work tirelessly until that is accomplished.

My partner and I had the right to marry. Our families and friends celebrated with us. It was a wonderful moment – a moment of dignity and respect for us after 26 years together – but so much more for future generations of LGBT people across the country. Our community has suffered so much indignity and prejudice through so many years. The statistics are real. The prejudice is real. The fear and stigma in our youth is real. A high rate of suicide among LGBT youth resulting from taunting based on sexual orientation is real. Recognition of the harm from prejudice and its elimination through education is essential. We are people. We are part of the fabric of our society. And we should not be judged any less by the immutable characteristic of our sexual orientation than we should be judged by the color of our skin, by the religion we practice or choose not to practice.

As in every civil rights movement, there is progress and there are setbacks. Prop. 8 is but a roadblock in the path to equality for all Californians. I pray that one day, when future generations are living in this state, Prop. 8 will be nothing more than a footnote in California’s history.

Candidly, I would rather devote my time and energy and the energies of those I engage addressing issues of health, poverty, education and so many other social issues. We, as a country, however, cannot sit passively while any group de jure of citizens is targeted. Today, sadly, my community remains vilified in many quarters. Tomorrow it may be another community. None of us can allow discrimination in any form against any community. It demeans us all and it truly hurts so fundamentally those directly impacted.

The Bar Association of San Francisco will continue to lead. Last year, it created its Marriage Fairness Task Force. The list of voluntary bar associations up and down the state – my incredible friends in the diversity bars – from Charles Houston, the Asian American Bar, the National Hispanic Bar, local bars from here to Anaheim and San Diego, the Muslim lawyers, among many others too numerous to list. We stood together. We understand we cannot be silent.

Our diverse legal communities stood together and sounded the clarion call that limiting rights of any marginalized group threatens us all. Writing words into our cherished constitution taking away rights threatens us all. The Constitution is designed to protect rights, not strip them away.

And contrary to media reports, this wasn’t minority against minority. We stood together and with other bars took courageous stances because we understand this was a fundamental human rights issue. We understood it is a fundamental civil rights issue. And, by the way, we do not live in a theocracy.

We are all one community when it comes to civil rights. The LGBT community comes from each and every race, ethnicity and religion that make up our truly diverse state. We are a part of each and every socioeconomic class. And the LGBT communities are banding together with our non-LGBT communities, to reach out, to educate and demonstrate this is not an LGBT battle, it is a human rights struggle in which we all have ownership and are accountable. We are a part of the whole fabric. We are entitled to equal civil rights.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded champions of fairness and equality to stay strong and keep our focus on the horizon: "The arc of moral justice is long, but it bends toward justice." So we will move on proudly and with hope. And it is going to take our collective progressive voice to new heights to continue to confront challenges to our civil rights however and whenever they arise. We will meet the challenge.

The Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF) is a nonprofit voluntary membership organization of over 8,000 attorneys, law students and legal professionals in the Bay Area. Founded in 1872, BASF is one of the largest and most dynamic metropolitan bar associations in the U.S., with a long and distinguished record of community action, public service and service to the legal profession.

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