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The Daily Journal

 

February 15, 2007

 

By Michelle Durand

 

 

County vows to back marriage equality

 

 

This was not the Valentine’s Day that Ramona and Arzu Gatto were able to legally marry but the San Carlos couple who with their 18-year-old daughter have become synonymous with gay rights deem the day sweet.

 

“How can I not be happy? Look at how far we’ve come,” Ramona Gatto said gesturing to the crowd milling outside the County Clerks Office at yesterday’s Marriage Equality rally.

 

Unlike past years when the Gattos waited hours at the County Clerk’s Office — knowing full well they would be denied a marriage license and complimentary rose — to highlight the issue of same-sex marriage, the couple stood on the outside steps alongside a growing number of county officials and employees.

 

What was once a lone quest for marriage license has grown into full-scale rally publicized as the Bay Area kickoff for a number of events promoting same-sex marriage. The now-annual event not only shows growing support of the idea but also highlights how far the clerk’s office has come, Ramona Gatto said.

 

On Jan. 11, Slocum sent letters to the clerks of every county in the state asking them to join in the support of Assembly Bill 43 which would grant them the right to marry gay and lesbian couples. The timing is fitting, he said, because 2007 marks the 30th anniversary of the law which changed the legal marriage wording to “a man and a woman.”

 

Slocum’s letter has elicited support from the county clerks and registrars in Santa Cruz, Marin and Yolo counties — the last which issued Certificates of Inequality to the couples. Couples in San Mateo County received a copy of Slocum’s letter tied with a ribbon.

 

His office, too, was not content to hide personal support behind the law.

 

Carol Marks, director of communications and special programs, and Deputy Clerk Teresa Raabe asked each couple to sign a book, enclose a photo and document the long road toward a legal wedding album.

 

As the Gattos, clutching the cardboard heart sign that has made many trips to the County Clerk’s Office in the past, signed their names first, a long line quickly formed behind. Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who authored AB43 added his name, too, while children went to work at a nearby table to draw their families for inclusion.

 

The scene yesterday was quite different than the Gattos’ first trip three years ago. Each year, however, brought small victories — Slocum meeting with them, then standing outside his office to voice support, this year’s public letter to the clerks and governor. This year also drew more local leaders and officials than ever, including state Sen. Leland Yee, Supervisor Jerry Hill and representatives of supervisors Adrienne Tissier and Rose Jacobs Gibson.

 

Openly gay Supervisor Rich Gordon introduced his life partner of 25 years, Dennis McShane, to the crowd, saying they planned to sign the guest book “to let the world know we want our equal rights.”

 

Slocum plans to give the book to the county’s historical museum when the marriage law changes.

 

As the crowd cheered and waved signs, those taking a turn at the podium said the issue is simply a matter of equality, regardless of sexuality.

 

Even those accused of crimes in a courtroom across the plaza or jailed in the adjoining building have the equal right to marry, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

 

“I do not understand why a similar approach cannot be taken in the state of California for families coming to this building,” he said, gesturing to Slocum’s office behind.

 

While the law discriminates against gay and lesbian couples, many yesterday said it also trickles down to children like the handfuls attending with their parents or holding up banners.

 

Intolerance shows itself in the way kids nonchalantly use “that’s so gay” as an insult or feel they are not a family because they don’t come from the traditional one dad, one mom mold, they said.

 

Children were a large focal point of yesterday’s call for equality. Second-grader Zackary Kleiman explained he knows five people who are gay or have gay parents while twin brother Miles took a rather direct approach.

 

“I think people should do whatever they want in their lives,” he said.

 

Marriage rights give them the feeling of family, of equality and erases the fear of losing a parent to deportation because gay and lesbian people cannot sponsor immigration, the children said.

 

Marina Gatto knows the last worry intimately — her mother, Arzu, is from Germany and is perpetually in school to maintain her visa.

 

Other children suggested politicians stop viewing the issue in terms of gay or straight.

 

“We aren’t asking to marry people of the same sex or even people of a different sex. We’re asking to marry someone we love,” said Chelsea Capone, 15, a member of the Straight Gay Alliance at Woodside High School.

 

After San Mateo County’s rally lifted the Gatto family’s spirits, they said a trip to the Santa Clara County Clerk’s Office quickly reminded them that not everyone echoes Slocum’s open support of same-sex marriage.

 

The family went there at the request of Santa Clara County families who attended the local rally. About six people asked the clerk if she would at the very least take their name and number so that they could be called when marriage is legal.

 

After initially refusing, the clerk gave them a blank sheet of paper without any promises, Ramona Gatto said.

 

The experience was slightly reminiscent of San Mateo County years ago, Marina Gatto said, but even then the workers were compassionate.

 

“Even then they were stern in saying no but always willing to listen and care about our situation. I can’t even express the contrast but it makes me appreciate our county even more,” she said.

 

Michelle Durand can be reached by e-mail: michelle@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this story? Send a letter to the editor: letters@smdailyjournal.com.