Same-Sex Couples Use Weddings to Wage Ballot Fight
Brown and her wife are one of many same-sex couples whose nuptials are made possible by the state Supreme Court's May 15 ruling that legalized gay marriage.
But as these couples say "I do," they are threatened by the prospect that California voters could undo the right to same-sex marriage by approving the ballot initiative called Proposition 8 in November. So many of them are using their weddings to do something about it.
"They're taking it very seriously," says Los Angeles wedding planner Pamela Yager. "It becomes, 'It's not just our union.' It becomes a political message they're trying to get out."
Brown and Shauna Rajkowski even inserted language into their ceremony in Berkeley that specifically referred to the fight against the proposition. And guests could take home pamphlets, bumper stickers, yard signs and postcards, all advocating "No on 8."
"If I had my preference, I wouldn't bring politics into it. But we just can't lose the moment and the opportunity when so many friends and family are together," said Brown, who is the policy director for Marriage Equality USA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to securing gay marriage rights nationwide.
But cake toppers and pamphlets aren't the only way same-sex couples are fighting Proposition 8, which would amend the state's constitution to recognize only marriage between a man and a woman.
Molly McKay plans to marry her partner on Sept. 1, and the two have decided to participate in one of the more popular anti-Proposition 8 wedding trends - replacing a traditional gift registry with a political version that accepts donations to the "No on 8" campaign in lieu of gifts.
So instead of pulling up a wedding registry at Macy's, friends and family can go online and give a donation in honor of the couple to a registry sponsored by gay rights organizations such as Equality California or the Human Rights Campaign.
"Nobody wants to be political about their wedding day," said McKay, media director for Marriage Equality USA. "But we have to do double duty. There's no other choice."
For many couples who have lived together in domestic partnerships or civil unions, it only makes sense to forego expensive gifts in favor of ensuring the long-term security of same-sex marriage.
"I couldn't bear the thought of getting more things to dust in our home," said Howard Bragman, a Los Angeles publicist who married his partner of five years on July 14. "We thought the best thing we could do is to direct people to give in honor of our wedding."
The money from most registries goes to Equality for All, which runs the "No on 8" campaign. So far, donations in honor of about 1,400 couples have generated approximately $300,000 for the campaign.
Allan Brauer, 50, and Norberto Laboy-Brauer, 54, were somewhat discouraged by the donations made in honor of their June 17 wedding in Sacramento.
"The only disappointing thing is that all of the people who donated to us were gay friends or couples," Brauer said. "And so far none of our blood relatives or straight friends have actually contributed any money."
Old-fashioned publicity is another way gay weddings are being used to support the fight against Proposition 8.
George Takei of "Star Trek" fame and his partner, Brad Altman, are working with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to publicize their Sept. 14 wedding in an effort to put a "public face" on the gay marriage issue. The Human Rights Campaign, meanwhile, has listed them as the first couple on their online registry.
Takei, 71, and Altman, 54, have also asked friends and family to make donations in honor of the wedding to the Japanese-American National Museum in Los Angeles, where they are holding their ceremony.
"We don't need another toaster or another set of silverware," said Takei, who is of Japanese ancestry. "So we thought we'd have people who want to celebrate with a gift, do that with these two institutions."
Yager, the wedding planner, said same-sex couples have found other ways to provide monetary support to defeating Proposition 8, including purchasing wedding favors from vendors that will then donate the proceeds to gay rights organizations.
The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center has made the process easier by creating an online resource for same-sex couples. The site lists more than 60 wedding businesses - providing everything from invitations to lighting - that donate to the center, which has given $200,000 to the No on 8 campaign, said spokesman Jim Key.
Then there is the final touch on any wedding - the thank-you note.
Yager says some of her gay clients will not just send notes to their guests but also to the California Supreme Court, expressing gratitude for making their weddings possible.
Not all gay couples are completely comfortable mixing nuptials and politics.
Bill Walker, 51, and Kelly Ziegler, 40, limited their activism to simple donation cards next to the guest book. But Walker acknowledges that politics weren't entirely absent from their Los Angeles ceremony.
"The very fact that we can get married, to some people is a political act," he said.