The Autumning Empire

Culture, Politics, Etc.

One Teen’s Fight To Make Gay Marriage A Reality (And How You Can Help Him)

Kenneth PhotoKenneth Sergienko is 17 years old. I met him five and a half years ago when I was the youth minister at St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church in Portland, Oregon. Since that time I’ve directed Kenneth in two Shakespeare plays, and invited him to host or co-host innumerable fundraising events at both St. Michael’s and Northwest Academy where he studies acting. So it’s been with a great deal of interest and pride that I’ve watched Kenneth’s social conscience and activism develop over the years. Kenneth knows his stuff, and is frankly better informed and more politically active than most adults I know.

Kenneth supports the legalization of gay marriage, which comes before the United States Supreme Court on March 26 in the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry. This case is important enough to Kenneth that he created a petition on the White House website asking it to File an Amicus Brief supporting the freedom to Marry in Hollingsworth v. Perry. As a supporter of gay marriage, I signed the petition myself – something that I’m encouraging you to do right now.

When Kenneth agreed to allow me to post the link to the petition on this blog and write a piece about it, I wanted to get a few words from him about why this particular issue is so crucial. I e-mailed him: “You appear to be concerned about a wide range of political issues. Why is the Hollingsworth v. Perry case so important? What about the case put it on your political radar?” About an hour later, I received this response from Kenneth, which I present to you in its entirety:


In 2008 the California State Supreme Court decided that same-sex marriage could be allowed under the state constitution. After that decision California voters approved Proposition 8 by a 5 point margin. Proposition 8 amended the state constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. After voters approved Prop 8 a lawsuit was filed challenging its constitutionality.

This case is important because it has the potential to be the Brown v. Board of Education of the Gay Rights movement. When this case was first decided by the San Francisco District Court the Judge found Prop 8 unconstitutional on a broad basis. He ruled there was a constitutional right for same sex couples to marry. In finding Prop 8 unconstitutional he also found any other state ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

When the Ninth Circuit took this case on appeal they ruled on a narrower level. They found that because the California Supreme Court had granted the right to marry for Gays and Lesbians, California voters could not take away that right without a compelling reason. The Ninth Circuit found Prop 8 unconstitutional, but only with the specific events in California.

This case is so important because it’s an “all or nothing” case. The question presented for argument is broader than one might think with the narrow ruling of the Ninth Circuit. The main question presented to the court is:

“Whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the State of California from defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.”

With this question, the court could issue a broad ruling, finding a constitutional right to same-sex marriage under the Fourteenth Amendment. This would nullify all 31 bans on same-sex marriage in the US. The Court could also follow the narrow Ninth Circuit ruling or reverse their decision entirely. If the decision was reversed Prop 8 would stand, and Gays and Lesbians in California and across the country would still be unable to legally wed.

This case is on my radar for a few reasons. The two attorneys arguing the case are David Boies and Ted Olson, the lawyers who argued against each other in the forever infamous Bush v. Gore. Those two coming together to argue a substantive equal protection question is the stuff of a Stephen Spielberg biopic. The reasoning, evidence and law behind their arguments also interest me greatly. It’s one thing to feel that something is right. It’s another thing to be able to cite a mountain of evidence to prove that it’s right. I also have a personal stake in this case.

As a Gay person I have a deep desire to see justice done. For me, for my friends and family and even for the thousands of kids like me living in California awaiting the outcome of this case.

On one level the issues presented in this case transcend law. When the Supreme Court rules in June, to many it could be a landmark victory for Equal Protection and constitutional principles. To many more it could be a defining moral statement. An affirmation that Gays, Lesbians and their relationships are normal, healthy and worthy of acceptance. One some level the court will rule on whether or not Being Gay is OK. That’s not only huge for the adult plaintiffs who wish to marry today, but to the thousands of kids like me who wish to marry in the future.


Well? What are you waiting for? Sign the petition! Circulate it to others via e-mail, Facebook, or any other means at your disposal. Please do it now: a total of 25,000 signatures are needed by February 10. Filing an amicus brief (literally “friend of the court”) in this case would demonstrate that the Obama administration is serious about its support of gay marriage. Anyone familiar with our current Supreme Court knows that its bent is conservative; this case could go either way. An amicus brief from the White House would remind potential swing justices such as Roberts and Kennedy that their votes are being viewed by not only the public, but history itself.

I believe that when he reaches adulthood, Kenneth has the right to marry whomever he chooses. More importantly, he believes it, and is pulling the levers of participatory democracy to make our government recognize that right. Won’t you invest five minutes of your time to help him? It seems to me that more is at stake than gay marriage. When young people put their faith in the system, we owe them our support. It is often said that “our children are our future.” What’s so often ignored is that young people are also our present, and they have to forge their own future from a harsh reality so carelessly tossed in their laps. As our country embarks upon the warm and fuzzy, self congratulatory ritual known as “MLK Day,” I hope you’ll take a moment to honor Dr. King’s legacy of equality for all, and work for the future of Kenneth and millions like him: make a defining moral statement that can change the law, and ultimately transcend it.

David Berkson

January 20, 2013

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Always feel free to post a comment and get a discussion going. Keep your remarks civil, but don’t feel bashful about starting a vigorous and healthy debate.


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