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3rd Time's a Charm Celebrating the Supreme Court Decision on Gay Marriage

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3rd Time's a Charm
Celebrating the Supreme Court Decision on Gay Marriage

Naomi Metz with her wife Jennifer Foley

By Suzanne K. Babb

Local attorney Naomi Metz is only in her early 40s, but she’s been married three times.  It is not that Metz made bad choices.  In fact, she made the same right choice all three times. 

Metz and her wife, Jennifer Foley – who make their home in Santa Rosa -- were first married in a community ceremony in 2001.  The marriage was not legally recognized.

In 2004, after Mayor Gavin Newsom directed the county clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Metz and Foley married again, in San Francisco.  Following a lawsuit by the California Attorney General, all the marriage licenses issued that year in San Francisco – approximately 4,000-- were voided.

The question of same-sex marriage then began its more substantive and lengthy journey through the state’s legal process, ending in a ruling by the California Supreme Court in May of 2008.  The Court held that under California’s state Constitution equal access to marriage, regardless of gender, is a fundamental right.

Metz and Foley tied the knot for the third time on August 1, 2008 in Sonoma County.  This was, by no means, the end of the story.

Later that same year, in what many viewed as a surprising outcome, California voters approved Proposition 8.  The passage of “Prop 8,” as it became commonly known, carved out a limited amendment to the California Constitution, providing that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized.” This trumped the prior ruling by the California Supreme Court.

Prop 8 dealt a staggering blow to same-sex couples in California, and left the legal community supporting them in a state of confusion.  As it happens, Metz was part of both groups.  She earned her law degree from U.C. Berkeley’s prestigious Boalt Hall, and specializes in estate planning and probate with a focus on the unique and often complex needs of same-sex couples.

In the nearly seven years since the passage of Prop 8, Metz has dealt with this issue on both a personal and a professional level every day.  It has meant constantly navigating the ever-changing legal landscape, which involved challenges on federal constitutional grounds, appeals, procedural reprieves and a U.S. Supreme Court unready to tackle the question. 

Finally, this year, with a growing number of states raising challenges, a growing number of couples whose unknown marital status left them in a legally untenable position, and the pressure created by the hodge-podge of laws across the country, the nation’s highest Court took up the question.

On the morning of Friday June 26, 2015, Metz and Foley were on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. when the highly-anticipated decision in Obergefell, et al v Hodges was announced.  In a 5-4 vote, the nation’s highest court ruled that the equal rights and privileges afforded to all under the U.S. Constitution includes the right of same-sex couples to be legally married, and to have their marriages recognized in every state, nationwide . “No longer may this liberty be denied,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority in the historic decision.  

Metz and Foley were already in the nation’s capital.  They had flown out earlier in the week to attend an LGBT reception at the White House.  Metz recalls the telephone call she received about a month earlier from the White House Social Secretary; he said “the President requests the pleasure of your company at the White House.” Metz did not check her calendar; whatever it was, it could wait.  She and Foley were going to D.C.

Metz, who serves on the Board of Directors for the National LGBT Task Force, the oldest organization of its kind in the country, is not entirely sure how she made it to the White House short-list. She believes the invitation came about as a result of conversations she had at this year’s annual Creating Change Conference.  The Conference, in a different city every year, involves five days during which over 4,000 activists come together to learn, discuss, network, strategize. “I ask; you just have to keep asking. No one is going to punch you in the face, and you might just get what you ask for.” She lives by this.

Metz was born and raised in Sonoma County.  She says, “Generally speaking, I feel really lucky to be living here. It is in most instances safe to be out. The fact that I am a lesbian married to a woman hasn’t affected my opportunities for housing, education, health care; it hasn’t impaired my professional life.”

Metz is thrilled with the Supreme Court’s decision but cautions there is more work to be done.  “One of the critical messages from the perspective of people who are involved is there are many issues that affect people’s lives in real ways that are not resolved by this outcome” Metz says.

Among other things, Metz points to the fact there is no federal discrimination law that applies to sexual discrimination or gender identity. This is critical because many states do not have any state-level anti-discrimination laws. As a result, even though all 50 states must now recognize same-sex marriages, agencies and businesses can still discriminate against same-sex couples in access to such things as medical care, housing, and employment opportunities. Even in those states that do have broad-based anti-discrimination laws, such as California, it is not clear the extent to which they protect LGBTQ individuals.

Locally, Metz helped found the Sonoma County Bar Association’s LGBT Law Section. She co-chairs the newly-organized Sonoma LGBTQI Giving Circle, a fund of 100 members that pools resources to provide grant money to organizations that are providing services and programs directly benefitting Sonoma County’s LGBTQI community.  The Sonoma County Foundation administers the fund.

Metz also provides educational programs in the local community, providing cultural competency training which enable professionals to acquire a better understanding of the particular issues faced by the LGBT community. Metz is impressed with the response, “they are eager to learn and understand so that they can provide more competent services to the LGBT community and to make their services more responsive.”

Metz will continue to work, fight, advocate, educate.  But, for the moment, she and Foley are celebrating.  

 


 

Suzanne Babb is a litigation attorney at the Ranta Rosa law firm of Beyers Costin Simon, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Sonoma County Bar Assocatioan