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11.19.08

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Phaedra

Photograph by Felipe Buitrago
UDDERLY DISTURBING: Wayne Smith cradles adopted son Levi, while Brent Vanke prepares dinner. The couple, who were married on Oct. 11, have two other adopted sons, Lazarus and Israel.

Outlawed Love

Newlyweds speak out on Prop. 8

By Eric Johnson


WAYNE SMITH says that his wedding was about the same as anybody else's. "That's one of the things that was so cool about it," he says. "I guess some people might see it as a nontraditional event, but to us it was very traditional. We went through the same things everyone else does. And it was awesome."Smith married his partner of three years, Brent Vanke, on Oct. 11. The ceremony and party took place at the Center for Spiritual Living in Willow Glen and was attended by about 140 people, including Smith's 87-year-old mother. His and Vanke's two adopted sons, Lazarus, 16, and Israel, 14, served as best men.

Like most people on their wedding day, Smith was elated.

"I was marrying the person I love," he says. "I was not entering a civil union with the person I love. I was not registering as a domestic partner with the person I love. We were getting married. Just like anyone else."

The legal distinction—the institution of marriage—was essential to his family's integrity, Smith says.

"It showed the kids that we're normal," he says, "that our relationship is no different than anyone else's, and that our family is no different that anyone else's.

I don't know why anyone would want to legislate something that would make that impossible for us."

The family is, in fact, somewhat uncommon. Since the beginning of their relationship, the Smith-Vanke home has served as an emergency shelter for abandoned children. Levi and Israel came to live with them as foster kids two years ago, and are in the final stages of the adoption process. Two sisters, 9 and 11, have been living with them for a year or so, and will soon return to their biological family. And four months ago, Smith and Vanke took in an infant boy whom they named Levi and plan to adopt in the next few months.

On Saturday, the family attended the protest rally in downtown San Jose. While he experienced it as more of a celebration than a political event, Smith says the best thing about it was the effect it had on Israel, who is developing an interest in politics. "It was eye-opening for him, and that made it eye-opening for me."

Three weeks after his wedding, on election day, Smith had been dismayed to learn that people like himself would lose the right to do this thing that had felt so natural to him. He still experiences some confusion.

"My mom, who is a very Christian woman, goes to one of those churches that supported Prop. 8, but she's very accepting of us. I just wish ... ," he says, his voice trailing off.


On the Outside

Kevin Smith (no relation), who married his 10-year partner Jeff Mallory in Big Sur on Oct. 8, sounds a lot like Wayne Smith when talking about his wedding day. "It was the best day of my life," he says.

And like Wayne Smith, he says election night was "extremely strange" for him. "I was so elated, so relieved that Barack Obama had been elected president. And so disappointed, heartbroken and so angry that Prop. 8 had passed.

"I felt like there was this great celebration going on all around me, and yet I couldn't jump up and down with the same euphoria. It was like there was a pane of glass between me and the jubilant crowd. And there I was, once again, on the outside."

Smith says the past few weeks have been difficult for him and his husband, and, he imagines, for a lot of gay men and lesbians. He points out that being gay in this culture takes a lot of courage, and that many who grow up in less-than-tolerant circumstances have deeply buried wounds.

The results of the election brought back some bad memories, he says. It took him back to his adolescence, and reminded him of insults he'd suffered as a young man. "And I found myself thinking, 'Wow—they really don't like me. They really don't want me around.' All that stuff came back."

That possibility was buttressed last week, as 43 Democratic state legislators, including leaders of the state Senate and Assembly, filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the California Supreme Court to invalidate Prop. 8.

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata and incoming President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg all signed the brief. Later that day, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reversed his previous position and called on the court to void the proposition.

On Monday, Attorney General Jerry Brown argued that the ballot should stand a challenge on logistical grounds, so that it can face a legal challenge on its merits. Wayne Smith says he is feeling hopeful that, ultimately, the right to marry will not be taken from gay men and lesbians.

Kevin Smith says he too is hopeful that the Supreme Court will reject the new constitutional amendment. Meanwhile, he says, he has rebounded somewhat since election day: "It has made me want to stand up taller than ever, prouder than ever, and say, 'If you think we're going away, you're wrong.'"

 

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