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Prop. 8 opponents praise court ruling

August 4, 2010 |  3:05 pm

Upon hearing of federal Judge Vaughn R. Walker's ruling on Proposition 8, 85-year-old Phyllis Lyon uttered a quiet, “Bless his heart.”

She and her lifelong partner Del Martin were the first to be married in San Francisco’s City Hall in February 2004, in a private ceremony that opened the floodgates to thousands more weddings and multiple court battles.

Martin died in 2008, 56 years after she and Lyon joined together in a lasting lovers’ union. Lyon on Wednesday called Walker’s ruling “a wonderful statement” and said she planned to stick around until this battle was ultimately won nationwide.

She and her partner, and then wife, were initially opposed to the institution of marriage as early feminists. But it became clear to them in recent years that the prohibition against such marriages made gays and lesbians second-class citizens, she said.

“It’s a step toward making people understand that we’re human beings like everybody else and we deserve the same kinds of privileges that everyone else has,” she said, “with the same names.”

Jeanne Rizzo waited outside the federal courthouse in San Francisco for Walker's ruling. She and her partner of 21 years, Pali Cooper, have been fighting from the trenches since the courts blocked the 2004 marriages and San Francisco officials closed the door right in front of them as they waited in line for a marriage license.

They became plaintiffs in the California Supreme Court case that briefly legalized the unions and wed, then began a new wave of activism to counter Prop. 8.

“I’m just so proud of us,” she said as she greeted well-wishers in the crowd. “It’s as it should be. It just proves that you really should not be leaving this to a popular vote. ... My heart is full.”

Cooper, a chiropractor, was seeing patients Wednesday but Rizzo said, “I want to go home to my wife…I can’t wait to go home and hug her.”

In Los Angeles, Rabbi Denise Eger, president of the Southern California Board of Rabbis, hailed the ruling but was waiting to hear whether it would be stayed.

“I don’t think anybody’s quite clear yet on whether it means that weddings can happen,” she said a short time after the ruling was handed down. “That’s the big question, whether I as a rabbi can start officiating.”

Eger, who is married to a woman, is rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, which has a large gay and lesbian membership.

“Here’s my advice to those who have theological trouble with gay and lesbians getting married,” she said. “In our country, marriage is very much a civil right, and yet we also ensure freedom of religion -- and freedom from religion.

"And so while there are those who are more theologically to the right wing, theologically conservative, who would not support marriage for gay people from their theological perspective, the answer is: They don’t have to do them," she continued. "They have their freedom of religion in our country not to officiate. … For those of us who are theologically progressive, we also have the freedom of our religion to practice our values.”

“So it’s a very joyous day,” she said. “And I know there were many couples who wanted to get married who … are ready and I look forward to standing under the chuppah with them,” referring to the canopy used in Jewish weddings.

She added that the Board of Rabbis opposed Prop. 8, despite some dissent from its more theologically conservative members.

-- Lee Romney in San Francisco and Mitchell Landsberg in Los Angeles