Yolo County Clerk-Recorder takes a stand for same-sex couples
For some couples across the country, Valentine’s Day rituals include flowers, chocolate and rejection. That is, each year on Feb. 14, same-sex couples enter a government office and try to apply for a marriage license. And each year they leave with a handful of nothing.
But not this year in Woodland, Calif. Yolo County Clerk-Recorder Freddie Oakley handed out a “Certificate of Inequality” to the gay couples who came to her counter. The certificates may’ve been short on legality, but they were long on sympathy.
For four years Oakley has denied marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples: “I’m the one who stands behind the desk and does it who says “‘no’ because it’s so odious, I can’t ask anyone on my staff to do it. And every year it gets harder,” Oakley told PlanetOut.com a couple of weeks before Valentine’s Day. Poor thing; we’ve given this married, straight woman a reason to loathe Valentine’s Day.
This year Oakley pondered how to make the experience more palatable, and hit on the idea of giving applicants “a takeaway.”
So on the big day, she dispensed hand-signed documents reading, “Your choice of marriage partner displeases some people whose displeasure is, apparently, more important than principles of equality.”
That has to be the least mushy Valentine’s Day sentiment I’ve ever heard. She may not be descended from her, but Freddie Oakley has a lot of Annie Oakley’s independent spirit. The major difference is Freddie does her sharp shooting with her tongue.
“If people hadn’t stood up for women’s rights 35, 40 years ago, I would not have the life I had,” she told The Orange County Register. “At some point, the principle has to be more important than personal comfort.”
I thought the best thing about the day after Valentine’s Day would be half-price chocolate, but reading her words was even better.
Oakley appears to be the epitome of a straight ally as she stands up for gay equality, even though it could cost her. She’s received gobs of unfriendly e-mail since announcing her plan, and it’s possible angry locals could try to recall her from her position.
Before Valentine’s Day she said the certificates wouldn’t be printed using public funds, and that they reflect her own view. But on Feb. 14, about 40 people opposed to gay marriage gathered outside the Yolo County government center, protesting what they called Oakley’s abuse of her office.
They might’ve been right. And when the law finally allows same-sex marriage and a county clerk objects by issuing a “Certificate of Degeneracy” along with a marriage license, it’ll be our turn to protest his abuse of his office. I’m looking forward to it.
In the meantime, I think of people like Kathleen Luna and Claire Allen, together 21 years, who received a Certificate of Inequality and consoling words from Oakley.
“It means the world to me that Freddie did this,” said Luna. “Each year, you think you’re going to be immune to it, but you get up there and you break down in tears.”
It would be easy to assume Freddie Oakley is anything but rebellious, when you hear she has been hitched to the same guy for 37 years, raised two daughters, and calls herself an evangelical Christian. But in fact, she’s rebelling in the name of the same thing Jesus did:
“When I face Jesus and have to account for my errors, I want to tell him that I erred on the side of love,” she said.
Read more of Leslie Robinson’s columns at www.GeneralGayety.com
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 23, 2007