California gay marriage fight goes to Chinatown

Thu Jun 18, 2009 8:30pm EDT
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By Peter Henderson

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The path to gay marriage in California may start in Chinatown.

After a double defeat at the voting booth and in court, gay advocates are reassessing their plans to push for legal same-sex marriage in the most populous U.S. state.

The new drive, focused on getting the issue on the ballot again as soon as November 2010, is more personal and reaches farther beyond the liberal confines of San Francisco's Castro or Los Angeles' gay heartland West Hollywood.

Lost in the 2009 election wreckage for gays was the marriage campaign's relative success in Asian communities, which have swung toward support of same-sex marriage at a faster rate than the rest of California and have become a model for other groups.

Asian Americans have been building grass-roots support in Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Filipinotown for four years. Gays, lesbians and straight allies have talked about the often-taboo topic of homosexuality, set up booths at festivals, harangued non-English language media to change coverage and lobbied elected officials for support.

"What we felt we had to do is talk to people who aren't on our side. So that's why we do these crazy things like walk through the streets of Chinatown as part of the New Year's Parade. That's why we go out to festivals from Little India to Little Tokyo and talk to complete strangers," said Marshall Wong, co-chair of Asia Pacific Islander group API Equality.

From California Controller John Chiang to Star Trek's Mr. Sulu -- actor George Takei -- and dismissed U.S. Army Lieutenant Dan Choi, who said he cannot stay silent about his sexuality, Asian community heavyweights have come out in support of gay marriage.


<p>Marshall Wong, co-chair of Asia Pacific Islander group API Equality, poses for a portrait in Chinatown in Los Angeles June 16, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>