by Rene Villaroman/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES – Ericson Herbas, a FilAm graphic artist originally from Makati City, has something in common with lawyers Doreena Wong, a Chinese-American, and Jennifer C. Pizer, a Jewish-American. All of them are currently in a same-sex relationship. In a few weeks – late May or early June – a ruling by the California Supreme Court on the issue of marriage equality will have an impact on the lives of these three Californians. Depending on which side the SC ruling tilts, it would spell either the end of their quest or a validation of a shared advocacy.
On September 27, 2007, a team of Asian American attorneys and advocates in Los Angeles and San Francisco filed a legal brief with the State Supreme Court in support of equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples. Two of those lawyers were Doreena Wong and Jennifer C. Pizer, who have been in a same-sex relationship for fourteen years.
The amicus (friend of the court) brief was filed in the consolidated Marriage Cases currently pending with the state SC. These consolidated cases are historic lawsuits urging the California courts to end the exclusion of loving and committed samesex couples from marriage. These couples have asked the courts to “hold that the State’s current law denying lesbian and gay persons the freedom to marry violates the Constitution’s guaranty of equality.”
The amicus brief also had sought to support basic fairness for same-sex couples and their families, drawing from the Asian community’s own past struggle with marriage discrimination in the State of California.
“One of the hallmarks of California’s legal history is that there were explicit laws in the State – just about one hundred years ago – that specifically singled out Asian immigrants for discrimination,” said Karin Wang, Vice President for Programs of Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) at a press briefing on Tuesday, April 22.
The reason for that, according to Wang, was that in the past, California employed predominantly Asian immigrants – men who were brought to California as laborers: Filipinos, Chinese, Koreans and Japanese, who worked in the fields and in railroad construction. “There was a fear of Asians marrying white women and having children that were not white,” Wang said.
Lawyer Jennifer C. Pizer, Senior Counsel at Lambda Legal, said that it was very inspiring to be a part of this historic advocacy to rewrite California marriage laws, but she was cautious about making a prediction how the State SC ruling would go down. She offered four scenarios: “We will win because the SC judges would agree that the state’s marriage law violates the constitution of the State of California,” Pizer offered. “Number two: The State SC would say there is a violation and rule that the State legislature rectify the error, like what Massachusetts did in 2003 and 2004. We hope that this logic would influence the Legislature to rectify the error.”
The third scenario would be that the state SC decides the state Constitution should grant equal rights and responsibilities to same-sex couples and let the Legislature find a way to amend the state constitution; and the fourth would be that the state SC rules the Constitution should guaranty equality, but may propose a ballot initiative to be approved by California voters.
Pizer said that there are some ultra-conservative groups in the state that are working to put an initiative in the November elections. “They have been working since 2004 to get enough signatures, but Californians are not particularly interested to get this issue in a ballot measure,” Pizer said. “The big question mark is whether they (the ultra-conservatives) could muster enough signatures.”
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a moderate conservative, had announced he would not support it. “It would require a lot of work,” Pizer admitted.
“People don’t understand domestic relationships,” said Doreena Wong, Co-Chair of Asian Pacific Islander Equality LA (www.apiequlityla.org). “Legal recognition means that we will be accepted and publicly acknowledged,” she said. “When we (Jennifer) and I bought a house together, my father wanted to make sure that the house had two separate bedrooms,” Wong related.
Ericson Herbas immigrated to the US at age 11. “I discovered that I was different at 16, living with a Filipino Catholic family in Daly City,” Herbas said. He has moved down to Los Angeles and works as a graphic designer with Latham and Wetting Law Office in Los Angeles and a Board Member of Gay Asian Pacific Support Network (GAPSN).
“When my mom asked me, ‘Are you gay?’ I said yes!” Herbas recalls. “My father cried and did not talk to me for three weeks,” Herbas said, recalling how his sexual orientation got discovered. “I was afraid of getting kicked out because I was only 19 then,” he said. “Father said that we should stick together because we are a small family, and my mother said ‘you’re my son and I love you’. What big relief,” he blurted.
Herbas told Asian Journal that he had started dating again, three years after he moved down to Los Angeles, leaving a boyfriend in San Francisco. “I sometimes underestimate my parents and how they can be very understanding,” Herbas said.
Says Andy Marra, a transgender and Media Strategists of Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD): “This is not just a gay issue; this is also an Asian American issue. Nationwide, there are 38,000 Asian Pacific samesex households.”