In celebration of the historic Supreme Court decision ruling that the Constitution gaurantees a right to same-sex marriage, we present this article, originally published as a Web Exclusive in 2008, about the passing of Proposition 8 in California. We’ve come a long way in a few short years. —Eds.

I got the first call on Thursday, October 16, two weeks prior to the 2008 general election in California. The call came from Sue Hildebrand, director of the Chico Peace and Justice Center. Sue wanted to know if I would marry two lesbian couples the very next day. “The two couples know each other,” she explained. “They could marry at the same time, with one ceremony at 6 p.m. and the other at 6:30. I know it’s short notice, but my phone is ringing off the hook with marriage requests. Do you think you could manage this?” “What are the two couples’ names?” I asked. “Chellie and Lori,” she said, “and Becky and Kay.” And with that I took their phone numbers and began the process that would end up with my marrying four gay and lesbian couples in the space of a week and a half.

What brought about all this urgency to marry was the upcoming November 4th vote on California’s Proposition 8, which aimed to amend the California Constitution by placing a ban on same-sex marriage. The wording of the proposition was simple and direct in its intent: a yes vote would overturn an earlier ruling by the California Supreme Court that a prior California legislative ban on same-sex marriage violated civil rights and was unconstitutional.

Chellie, Lori, Becky, and Kay wanted to marry before their right to do so was voted away. They wanted, like every other creature on this earth, human or otherwise, to live their lives without the criticism, complaint, and interference of others. Do the proponents of Proposition 8 really believe they can constrain the affections of lesbians and gay men simply by amending the California Constitution?

The most common justification for Proposition 8 and similar legislative initiatives is that same-sex marriage threatens the sanctity of “regular” marriage. What can marriage mean, the argument goes, if “anyone at all” is allowed to marry? But if marriage is indeed sanctified, a union worthy of care and respect, surely that sanctity rests on the strength of the bond it creates and is not subject to what someone else might be doing. If the quality of one marriage is determined by the quality of others, what can be said about the sanctity of marriage in a nation where fifty percent of marriages end in divorce?

I’m married to Karen Laslo. She’s my best friend and loving wife. I like being married, and I don’t know how my marriage is threatened by anyone else’s. The tragic irony is that the sanctity of any couple’s marriage is forfeited in the instant of their intent to withhold it from others. I cannot keep love alive in my own heart if I would deny the same to someone else. Love is not selective in that way but is rather an affectionate generosity that wishes the same for all. Withheld, love isolates itself and won’t long survive. A lifetime relationship of enduring love, kindness, and understanding is rare enough in human affairs without anyone trying to legislate who gets a shot at it and who doesn’t.

The day after Sue’s call, I meet the wedding party at the Peace Center.

We have come together for the marriage of Chellie and Lori. May they continue to deepen their love towards each other and towards all living creatures that ambulate, crawl, swim, slither, and fly, above, below, and over the earth.

The five of us—Chellie, Lori, Becky, Kay, and I—stand in a graveled clearing among the trees and shrubs behind the Peace Center building. It seems to me that we are here not merely for our own sakes but in actual fact for the sake of “all living creatures,” as the wedding scripture states. The very trees that shade this little fall garden, the scrub-jays and gold-crowned sparrows darting among the leaves, invite us into the all-inclusive body of life.

I Chellie, take you Lori to be my wife in unconditional and boundless love, as a mirror for my true self, as a partner on the path, to honor and to cherish, in sorrow and in joy, till death do us part.

I Lori, take you Chellie to be my wife…

Becky and Kay, waiting their turn, watch while their friends marry. I wish everyone were here to watch as these loving couples dedicate themselves to each other in marriage.

Chellie and Lori, you have chosen each other from all the other women on this earth, have declared your love for each other before this gathering, and have made your pledge to each other symbolized by the giving and receiving of rings. Therefore, I declare that you are wives together.

None of us has dry eyes, not Chellie, Lori, Becky, Kay, or me.These women are veterans of years spent together, and yet this evening on the gravel behind the Peace Center they face each other for the first time as legally recognized wives. They cry and wipe their eyes, glad at last for this acknowledgment of the lives they share.

And then in turn:

I Becky, take you Kay…
I Kay, take you Becky…

And in the next few days:

I Tricia, take you Kari…
I James, take you David…

Imagine what it would be like if all the people of the world and all creatures and beings of any sort were wedded to one another in mutual caring and respect:

I straight, take you gay and lesbian…
I Christian, take you Muslim…
I Buddhist, take you Jew…
I robin, take you sparrow…
I rabbit, take you fox…
I frog, take you salmon…
I stone, take you leaf…

I hereby declare that we are one family living under one roof ‘till death do us part.

Seng-ts’an, the third Chinese Ancestor of Zen, taught that “the ultimate way is not difficult; just avoid picking and choosing.” The ultimate way is the way of the interface of all beings—human, animal, mineral. Legislating the exclusion of lesbians and gay men from society denies the reality of our shared humanity, much like laws that override the needs of birds or trees or the fish that swim the rivers and oceans.

From the viewpoint of the contemporary deep ecologist or likewise one who has entered the Buddhist path, this sort of selective exclusion simply doesn’t make sense. To the Buddhist it is like rejecting the shape of one’s own face; to the ecologist it is a pointless argument with reality. If Seng-ts’an’s ultimate way is one of compassionate inclusion and love, then I don’t get to pick and choose who gets to love and who doesn’t. Love is not something I get to keep for myself. To hoard love is to already have lost it.

If we humans treat each other badly, so will we treat the earth. We have sought to shape conditions to our own liking by exhausting the earth’s mineral resources, driving other species to extinction, massing armies against each other. All this ignorance and greed rests on the same fatal flaw: the belief that we can possess the world on our own terms. If I walk the path of preference, I will be constantly at pains to rid the world of whatever offends me. If instead I come to realize that our lives and histories are shared, the whole world is kin and I take my place at the table where the entire earthly family is invited to dine. Who then will be told to go hungry? Who will be left outside?

On November 4, 2008, Californians passed Proposition 8, amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages. This legislation works to the exclusion of our friends and families, just as we have adopted a century of laws and regulations that effectively legislate against the survival and inclusion of countless other species and that destroy the very earth upon which a viable ecosystem depends. Now we have turned our laws against our own kind. With this act, the legacy we leave to future Californians is a diminished culture in a rapidly diminishing world. When diversity is experienced as a threat, we all suffer separately. When the wide and various world is embraced we all thrive together.


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