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Image: Terrenz Vong and Tran Le march in the 2012 Golden Dragon Chinese Lunar New Year Parade in Chinatown, Los Angeles.
When Tran Le and Terrenz Vong marched in the Golden Dragon Chinese Lunar New Year Parade earlier this year in Los Angeles, their photo appeared on the second page of the Sing Tao Daily. The couple said their appearance in the city’s largest Chinese-language newspaper sent a clear message to their families and their communities.
“One of the biggest misconceptions [in Asian Pacific Islander communities] is that they don’t see other couples like us in the media,” said Le, a 21-year-old Vietnamese American. Vong, her partner, is a 24-year-old Chinese American. “When we marched in the parade, people who looked like my grandmother and my aunt stopped us to take a picture.”
Appearing in Asian-American media outlets, Le said, “creates a sense of normalcy in society.”
Le and Vong, who spoke Tuesday on a telebriefing organized by New America Media and the California-based Breakthrough Coalition, are among tens of thousands of same-sex couples in California anxiously awaiting news this week of whether they will have the right to marry.
Two Key Cases Before the Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce on Friday, Dec. 7 whether it will review two major cases related to marriage equality.
One is a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal statute that denies same-sex couples the same federal benefits and protections that heterosexual married couples receive. Married same-sex couples, for example, can’t file joint taxes, access surviving spouse benefits under Social Security, or apply for a green card through a U.S.-citizen partner.
The second case the Supreme Court could decide to review is a challenge to the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision on California’s Prop 8. The Ninth Circuit Court ruled earlier this year that Prop 8, the 2008 voter-approved initiative to ban same-sex marriage in the state, was unconstitutional.
If the Supreme Court decides not to review the Prop 8 case, the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision will stand, and same-sex couples in California will soon be able to marry again.
If the Supreme Court decides to review one or both cases, their decision is not expected until next June. (They could also decide to review DOMA now, and delay their decision on whether to take up Prop 8.) The court has already delayed announcing its decision several times.
“We’ve been up waiting for the results of the decision every Friday and Monday,” said Renata Moreira, the director of policy and communication at Our Family Coalition in San Francisco. She and her partner Lori Bilella are planning to get married in New York on their fifth anniversary next September. But they will marry sooner in California if they can.
Christopher Stoll, senior staff attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the “worst-case scenario” for same-sex couples like Moreira and her partner would be if the Supreme Court “upholds DOMA and Prop 8 and says same-sex couples don’t have a constitutional right to marry.”
He doesn’t think that’s a likely scenario, but if it happens, Stoll said, “That would leave us in a situation where we have to spend many years getting back into the courts to get it overturned.”
A ‘Sea Change’ in Support For Same-Sex Marriage
A lot has changed since California voters approved Prop 8 four years ago.
This year, voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington state approved same-sex marriage, marking the first time marriage rights have been extended to same-sex couples by popular vote.
“Across the board, a majority of voters now support same-sex marriage,” said Amy Simon, a pollster and communications strategist at Goodwin Simon Strategic Research. Simon describes the shift as a “sea change over time,” a “relatively rapid” and “steady” increase of support for marriage equality.
In 2003, only 37 percent of U.S. adults supported same-sex marriage. By 2009 and 2010, polls showed roughly equal numbers for and against. Since then, a majority of the U.S. population has come around in support of same-sex marriage.
Fifty-one percent of adults now support marriage equality, compared to 47 percent who oppose it, according a national ABC News/Washington Post poll released in November 2012.
“It’s not just that young people who are more supportive … are a larger part of the population,” Simon said. Support for marriage equality has grown among all groups, she explained – youth, adults, senior citizens, African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, whites – in all regions of the country.
Currently, 51 percent of Anglos, 43 percent of African Americans and 53 percent of Latinos support marriage equality, according to the ABC News/Washington Post poll. Although the sample of Asian American-Pacific Islanders wasn’t large enough to be statistically significant, other polls show that the numbers of API voters who support marriage equality is roughly the same as Latinos.
As more Latinos and Asian Americans support marriage equality, Simon added, they could become a key swing vote on the issue.
And while African Americans in general have lower levels of acceptance of same-sex marriage than other groups, much of this is related to religiosity, according to Simon. Support for same-sex marriage among those African Americans who attend church less regularly or not at all is higher, she says.
Rev. Roland Stringfellow, director of Ministerial Outreach at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and the Ministry at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif., said he personally knows “many pastors and rabbis” willing to marry and recognize same sex couples.
He added that Obama’s announcement that he supports same-sex marriage swayed many African Americans.
“As President Obama stated, he did not want to be on the wrong side of history,” said Stringfellow, and many people may feel the same way.
The Power of Messaging
One of the factors driving this shift in public opinion could be that marriage equality supporters have found “much more powerful and effective” ways to communicate their message, Simon said.
Proponents of marriage equality are using a variety of messaging strategies to make their case.
They are appealing to people’s sense of shared humanity by focusing on the idea that “we are all God’s children” and using families to tell stories of same-sex couples.
They are using “unexpected messengers” such as clergy, Republicans, older heterosexual couples, Catholics, African-American ministers, Latino and API leaders. “That catches people’s attention,” Simon explained, “because they think, ‘If that person is for it, and I’m uncomfortable with it, maybe I should think about that.’”
They are encouraging people who have changed their minds on the issue to act as spokespeople, telling the story of their journey through personal conflict as they went from being uncomfortable with the idea of same-sex marriage to becoming comfortable with it.
Finally, supporters of same-sex marriage are emphasizing protections for religious freedoms, making it clear that issuing marriage certificates is a government issue -- and that churches can still decide who they do and don’t want to marry in their church.
“That distinction was important for the African-American vote in Maryland,” Simon noted, when voters approved same-sex marriage in November.
In one ad, for example, African-American Reverend Donté Hickman of the Southern Baptist Church said he was in favor of Question 6, the Maryland same-sex marriage measure, because it protected religious freedom. “I support this law,” he said, “because it doesn’t force any church to perform a same-sex marriage if it’s against their beliefs.”
For Le, the child of refugees from Vietnam, marriage rights are the next logical step in gaining access to the American dream.
“Our families came to America in pursuit of the American dream, like many other immigrant minorities,” said Le. “Part of that is having the opportunity to achieve greater things, and having equal rights.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that an image appearing the the Sing Tao Daily of Tran Le and Terrenz Vong was taken during LA's Gay pride Parade. It was in fact the Golden Dragon Chinese Lunar New Year Parade.
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