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Fremont City Council to Discuss Support for Prop 8 Lawsuit

17 November 2008 No Comment

Story by Linsay Rousseau Burnett

At November 18th’s Fremont City Council meeting, City Attorney Harvey Levine will be presenting his legal brief concerning three lawsuits filed by the city and county of San Francisco and a handful of other city and county governments challenging the legal authority of Proposition 8. According to Mayor Bob Wasserman, the request that the city sign onto the lawsuits did not come from the San Francisco city attorney, but from local residents.

At the meeting, city council members will discuss potential actions the city can take, or not take, in support of the lawsuits. Wasserman said that the most likely outcome would be for the city attorney to file an “amicus currie” in support of the lawsuits.

An “amicus currie” is a brief filed with the court by someone who is not a party to the case but believes that the court’s decision may affect its interest. Wasserman said the reason the council would not consider becoming an official party in the lawsuits is that the city does not have sufficient resources to supply the necessary attorneys.

The placement of this issue on the city council’s agenda did not come from government officials or lawyers, but from a few concerned residents. Neighbors Christina Melnarik and Beth Hoffman spearheaded several anti-Proposition 8 fundraisers and rallies in the lead up to the election. When the measure passed, the two women said they went back to the drawing board to figure out their next move.

When San Francisco decided to file suit in opposition to Proposition 8, Hoffman said the City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office began recruiting other cities to join the lawsuit. While he took the time to fly to San Diego, Hoffman said he never even picked up the phone to call Fremont – its neighbor and the fourth-largest city in the Bay area.

“In 2004, when all these cities joined in on the first initial court action against the state on gay married, no one asked Fremont to join. We were ignored. So it seems like, to me, that nobody asks so Fremont doesn’t normally take action,” said Hoffman.

Fremont is demographically different than other cities in the Bay area and has one of the highest per-capita income rates. As such, Hoffman said this means the city also has a large number of traditional married couples. Instead of opposition, she said she was surprised how adamantly many of her neighbors were working to oppose Proposition 8 and subsequently have it repealed.

“They’re happily married. It’s visceral with them. They don’t want people to be denied marriage because it’s really important to them. This [city council decision] could be a really good thing for Fremont. It can change the perspective of who lives here and show that people care about the community and members of the community,” said Hoffman.

This type of outlook is one that Melnarik is also fighting to support. As a wife and mother of two young children, she said her support for gay marriage is founded on two simple concepts: equality and the separation of church and state. With a large immigrant population in Fremont, she said issues of equality resonate throughout the city.

“My kids are one of only three white children in their classroom. For many of the families I know, they’re new to the country, some are perspective citizens, and they wondering whose rights will be taken away next,” said Melnarik.

The concept of the separation of church and state is something Melnarik said is much more confusing for these immigrants to understand. But for those who fled to the United States to escape an autocratic society, Melnarik said the thought of moving to another nation where religion dictates policy is frighting.

“There are a lot of different religions in Fremont. What gives one church the rights to say that a certain right or law goes against their theology and now everyone has to follow their theology? Fremont has a responsibility to reassure all its citizens that if somebody’s rights are taken away they will stand up and say this is wrong,” said Melnarik.

Melnarik said that she and some of her neighbors and friends will be attending the city council meeting and speaking out against Proposition 8 and requesting that the council file an “amicus” brief in support of the lawsuit.

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