Fremont Votes to Join Lawsuits Against Prop 8
By Linsay Rousseau Burnett —
Update: On November 19th, the California Supreme court agreed to hear the lawsuits but denied a motion for an immediate stay.
Update: Alameda County and the City of San Mateo unanimously voted in closed session to join the lawsuits on November 18th. The city of Oakland voted in closed session to join the lawsuits on November 19th.
In a four to one vote, the Fremont City Council voted on November 18th, to become a party in the now four lawsuits being waged against the state in opposition of Proposition 8. Fremont is the first city in Alameda County to join the lawsuits.
City Attorney Harvey Levine presented his legal assessment of the litigation its primary argument that Proposition 8 is a revision, rather than an amendment to the California state constitution.
“The underlying issue is whether or not you can take a fundamental right away from the Constitution with a simple majority vote,” said Levine.
Following Levine’s remarks, the microphone was opened up for community statements. Seven individuals came forward, each making two minutes speeches urging the council members to support these lawsuits.
Each of the seven, while presenting individual perspectives, all referenced Fremont’s minority majority population and large immigrant community as reasons to oppose Proposition 8 and ensure that rights for all will be protected.
Christina Melnarik, a resident of 22 years, emphasized the American commitment to the separation of church and state as set forth by James Madison.
She went on to state, “Every generation has resisted the inclusion of a group of others into our society. How can we laud the election of our new president election as a triumph over bigotry and prejudice while on the other hand we apply that same bigotry and prejudice against another subset of other?”
Reverend Barbara Myers, a minister at Mission Peak Unitarian Universality congregation and 33-year resident of Fremont, said she was concerned that Proposition 8 might establish a precedent for taking away the rights of other minority communities in the future.
“In my view this is simply not just and I’m confident that eventually justice is going rain in this matter,” she said
Natalie Mun stepped up to the podium and with a quivering voice and tears in her eyes, urged the council to do the right thing.
“I’m embarrassed that the constitutional change wrought by Proposition 8 is wrong for CA, that it’s wrong for my neighbors, and that it’s wrong for our city. As a minority majority city we have a particular need to protect the rights of all our residents, but especially minorities. Let’s wake up from this bad dream,”
Following the statements, councilmembers briefly discussed the issue, turning to Levine for clarification on the difference between filing an “amicus” brief, or simply join the lawsuit. This time also gave members the opportunity to voice their personal opinion on the matter, which were overwhelmingly supportive.
Vice-Mayor Anu Natarajan stated, “Something more important than whether we join in the lawsuit is the fact that we as community leaders are taking a stand on this for our community in Fremont. Especially in a diverse community like ours, we need to be looking out for the smallest of the groups amongst that diverse group.”
Also a vocal supporter was Councilman Bob Wieckowski, who said, “Can you imagine after the Civil Rights Act had been passed by Congress, that the state decided by a majority that they want to go our own way because this is what the majority of our state wants? So sometimes it’s appropriate for the city to express their will.”
The city expressing its will was one of the reasons given in Councilman Steven Cho’s sole voice of dissent. He argued that the city council has not taken an official stance on civil rights issues that have been brought to the council in the past and that this issue was no different.
“I want to protect civil rights, but to change the definition of marriage, in my mind, is a different issue than one of civil rights. The Prop 8 language is what I grew up with. I will talk about civil rights but I won’t go against 8,” said Cho.
Mayor Bob Wasserman said that during his 16 years as mayor he has been a staunch opponent of getting involved in issues that do not affect the city. But he was quick to jump in and say that this issue is different because it results in the “deprivation of rights of people in Fremont.”
Despite Cho’s disagreement, the majority opinion of the council was summed up by Councilman Bob Wieckowski, “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t join the lawsuit. We’re doing this for all of our citizens.”
The four to one vote was met with a standing ovation by those in the gallery, many of whom were wiping away tears.
Fremont joins the ranks of San Francisco city and county, Los Angeles city and county, city of Oakland, as well as Santa Clara, Alameda, Marin, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties in their lawsuits against the state of California.
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