While many couples rejoiced in San Francisco’s City Hall on Valentine’s Day after having their marriage recognized by the state, several same-sex couples were hauled away in zip ties by the San Francisco Police Department for pursuing that same rite of passage.
Every year, for the past 13 years, same-sex couples have marched into the San Francisco County Clerk’s office in City Hall requesting a marriage license as part of Freedom to Marry Week. When the couples are denied that right, they stay put as an act of civil disobedience — only leaving when they are taken away by the authorities.
This year, a group of same-sex couples occupied the office for under 30 minutes. Scenarios like this played out in twenty other cities around the country, pointing out the discrepencies that the United States has made in limiting the rights of people in the LGBTQ community.
Stuart Gaffney, media director of Marriage Equality USA, planned the action in partnership with GetEQUAL, an organization that helps promote legal and social equality within the LGBTQ community. GetEQUAL believes the event gets people to take notice of restrictive state marriage laws.
“It’s about the problem being made visible to others,” Gaffney said. “Even though opposite-sex couples are in the midst of their wedding day, they take notice of what’s happening and that’s important.”
David Campos, district 9 supervisor, finds that breaking the law is sometimes necessary to prove a point.
“We as LGBT people are fighting for the simple principle that we have equality under the law,” Campos said. “It’s important that San Francisco continues to lead the way—sometimes that envelope needs to be pushed.”
Frank and Joe Capley-Alfano have been together for 13 years, and have been participating in this event for the past nine. They were one of the many same-sex couples that married legally in San Francisco in 2004, only to have their marriage invalidated by the State of California.
On top of fighting for the right to marry in the state of California, the pair have made the point to receive the same healthcare benefits that straight married couples would get.
“We fought Frank’s union for five and a half years to extend healthcare coverage to cover the both of us,” Joe Capley-Alfano said.
In addition to the act of civil disobedience that occurred at city hall, California Assemblyman Phil Ting also announced that he would be putting forward legislation that would extend tax relief to workers with same-sex partners to lessen the blow of the federal tax that is put on their health benefits. SF Appeal estimates that same-sex couples are charged $540 each year for that federal tax.
This year, the protest comes at a time when statutes saying that same-sex couples can’t marry may be overturned. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments March 26 against Proposition 8, California’s same-sex marriage ban.
Therese Stewart, chief deputy city attorney, hopes that by this time next year the LGBTQ community will have bigger fish to fry — such as fighting for the validation and rights of transgendered individuals.
“I am also hoping that this time next year that we will have a supreme court that will recognize that same sex couples are not so different,” Stewart said.