The waiting game
Gay men bide their time, remain optimistic about marriage
Californians on both sides of the gay marriage debate have employed a dizzying array of lofty rhetoric, historical allegory and pure, unbridled vitriol to defend their views. But for Brian Fiorino and Duke Khuu, a gay Mountain View couple, it all boils down to one very human issue.
"The bottom line is, two people who love each other should be able to get married," Khuu said. "I just want to marry Brian."
For now, however, the two men are playing the waiting game. On Monday, Aug. 16, a three-judge panel from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco put an indefinite hold on gay marriages in California.
The ruling prohibits county clerks in California from granting marriage licenses to homosexual couples — staying an Aug. 4 ruling issued by Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker that would have allowed county clerks to grant the licenses beginning on Aug. 18 at 5 p.m.
For lawyers defending Proposition 8 — the 2008 voter-approved initiative that banned gay marriages in California — the stay issued by judges Edward Leavy, Michael Hawkins and Sidney Thomas was warmly received.
"California voters spoke clearly on Prop. 8, and we're glad to see their votes will remain valid while the legal challenges work their way up through the courts," said Andy Pugno, in a statement on ProtectMarriage.com.
Pugno is general counsel for ProtectMarriage.com, the official proponents of Proposition 8 and the defendants in the current lawsuit, Perry v. Schwarzenegger.
The stay is just one more downturn in the series of ups and downs for Fiorino and Khuu, who had made plans to get married on Wednesday at the Santa Clara County Clerk-Recorder's office.
"I just think that it is unfortunate that this is going to be delayed," Fiorino said of the panel's decision. "Prop. 8 is an injustice, and it remains an injustice as long as it remains on the books."
Fiorino knows a thing or two about "the books." He is a lawyer specializing in insurance defense and an associate attorney at a Redwood City law firm. As such, he said, he not only wants to see the controversial proposition overturned so that he and Khuu may wed, but also, based upon his background in law, he believes Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional.
"We should not be having our rights voted upon," Fiorino said. He recalled as a child how he and his schoolmates would recite the Pledge of Allegiance. "Every day we would say 'with liberty and justice for all.' Proposition 8 flew in the face of all of that."
Khuu was born in Vietnam and spent several years of his childhood in a refugee camp before moving to Walnut Creek when he was 11. Fiorino was born in Ohio and raised by an autoworker father and homemaker mother. Both men count themselves fortunate for growing up in families that were understanding of their sexual orientation.
"We're very lucky and blessed that way," Fiorino said. "Many gay people are not."
"All my parents want is someone to take care of me and love me and be with me through thick and thin," Khuu said.
Fiorino and Khuu met at a coffee shop in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. Fiorino was working as a clerk for a judge in New Jersey and Khuu, who now runs a private dermatology practice on Castro Street, was finishing up his residency. The couple moved to Mountain View four years ago to buy a home and settle down together. Fiorino proposed to Khuu on Sept. 17, 2009, while the two were on vacation in Istanbul.
The couple recently entered the public debate on gay marriage by speaking in front of City Hall at an Aug. 4 rally in downtown Mountain View, which celebrated Judge Vaughn Walker's rejection of Proposition 8. After the rally, Khuu hosted a reception at his dermatology practice.
Khuu said he has always been a very reserved person and that he initially had doubts about entering the public debate. However, he said, he feels that he and his partner are in a prime position to speak up for others in the local gay community. "If I'm in a position where I feel like I can make a difference, I will try to do so."
While both Fiorino and Khuu are disappointed that their marriage plans must be put on hold, they both continually find reasons to be optimistic about their futures.
For one, both men feel that as unpleasant as the debate has been at times, it has both galvanized the gay community and forced people to confront an issue that needs to be discussed.
"I believe this country is at its best when it lives up to its founding laws — that all people are created equal," Fiorino said. "I truly believe that (Californians) are going to make this right."
Above all, however, the men aren't worried because they have each other.
"We're going to be fine, regardless," Khuu said. "This is not the hardest thing I've had to deal with."
"We're still here and we're not going anywhere," said Fiorino, who firmly believes he, his partner and all those supporting them are on the right side of history. "We are more hopeful than anything else. We're still very much in love and we can't wait to make this official."