Although the Supreme Court hearings about same-sex marriage are thousands of miles away, the issue hits close to home for Merced resident Swana Swanson, 37. She said "I do" to the woman who is now her wife in 2008, right before Proposition 8 passed in California.
The stay-at-home mom is the only person in her circle of friends married to a same-sex partner, and it's something she doesn't take for granted.
"I definitely feel that we were lucky, because if we hadn't done it when we did, it would have never happened," she said.
It's something Swanson said she wants for all her family and friends.
"It enables us to get health benefits together and make decisions for each other, a lot of things our other friends aren't able to do," she said. "It's just a right humans should have, regardless."
That issue and others are being considered by the court, which heard oral arguments this week regarding the 1996 law that denies federal benefits to same-sex couples as well as California's ban on same-sex marriage.
Marissa Chavez, 23, is the president of Merced Full Spectrum, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community group, that meets on the first and third Saturday each month at Coffee Bandits.
Chavez said the time has come for Merced to support marriage equality.
"We're a growing community with the UC now, and the LGBT (community) is growing exponentially in Merced," she said. "More people are in favor of same-sex marriages as opposed to five years ago."
The Merced native said she returned home after going away to college in Davis, where education and resources for the LGBT community were more widely available.
Chavez said many Mercedians aren't able to hold their same-sex partner's hand in public because of the looks they receive. "One of the reasons I came back to Merced was to create a positive change," she said.
Al Schaap, pastor at Gateway Community Church, said traditional marriages aren't perfect, but the word "marriage" is clearly defined by the Bible.
"I believe that marriage is a term and institution set up by God for one man and one woman for life," Schaap said. "In the Bible, it says homosexuality is not the way God created us to function."
Schaap said he supports giving same-sex couples the benefits associated with marriage. "I'm not saying that they shouldn't have governmental laws that give civil unions the same benefits as marriage," he noted.
Gateway Community Church is running a series of messages on sexuality called "Pure Sex" each Sunday in April. Schaap said anyone is welcome to attend.
Schaap said the same-sex debate in Merced has often turned disrespectful, and apologizes for that.
"The conversations have been a lot of hollering and hate from both sides," he said. "That's not OK, but I can only apologize for my side."
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.