Everyone's Doing It!
Valentine's week, 2004
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On the first full day of marriage licenses, I went down to City Hall and spent four hours there, clapping, playing, talking, witnessing, seeing friends get married, a huge happy grin on my face the whole time, despite not being "pro-marriage." It was just such a personal and wonderful feeling to see so many people finally experiencing the liberating joy from a crack in the monolithic and fearful control by the state (not CA).
Imagine it. There's the Assessor's Office Tax Attorney standing awkwardly in the rotunda, drafted into service along with all sorts of other personnel for this abundance of matrimony. He's reading from his script in his dorky suit with his dorky tax lawyer haircut, "By the power vested in me by the state of California, I now pronounce you spouses for life. You may kiss...Do you have rings to exchange?...Okay, repeat after me: With this ring I thee wed."
Ruth and Kris finally get their turn.
"Do you have rings to exchange?" Kris says "Hang on!" and suddenly scrambles and bends over her backpack, which had been tossed against the base of a pillar in this ornate and grand hall. She's searching, searching, finally finding a jacket which she extracts, then frantically searching the pockets.
Meanwhile Ruth turns to me bewildered: "Ring? We don't have rings to exchange." Kris doesn't even believe in marriage, as Ruth had earlier explained, in the three hour line which another betrothed, Victoria, told me was the best three hours she ever waited in a line. Apparently Ruth had to convince her Kris (you've heard of "Ruth's Kris", right?) to do this at all—though they are in the midst of planning kids, so the commitment is there.
"And the only reason she was able to convince me," chimed in Kris with a look of suspended disbelief, "is that I know that this is a charade—it'll be voided as soon as it's issued!" Even as she said it, she didn't sound so sure. There she stood with a thousand others in a line weaving through the rotunda and the huge and gorgeously remodeled North Light Court, down the stairs, through four hallways in the basement—plus up ahead around two corners into the City Clerk's office (which I am proud to say I helped renovate—or at least I helped during the famous renovation to apply the gold leaf to the words "City Clerk" on the glass outside the office, but that's another story!).
So here Kris is in her torn jeans digging through pockets for rings to exchange with her sudden bride, who is standing in her dirty white thermal underwear shirt, big-eyed and slack-jawed, and side-by-side with a crisp, blue-suited, recently deputized, marrying, tax attorney.
Finally: "Ah!" and Kris triumphantly pulls out two metallic, shiny, gleaming, foil-wrapped Hershey Kisses. The shyly smiling marrying official then picks up where he left off, as if there had been no interruption. "Repeat after me, with this Kiss, I thee wed." I cried, just as I had watching the ceremony of the complete strangers in line ahead of them.
When all three stages of the process are done and the license is officially registered and in hand, Ruth's voice can be heard echoing across the ground floor offices, "Wife! Quit yer yakking and come with me. I have places to be!" And the reply: "'A healthy home is built on mutual respect.' You don't want me to have to use those domestic violence resources, do you?" (A reference to the booklet given to all SF marrying couples which had been distributed in line. It included resources such as how to get your kids immunized and how to maintain good communication in a relationship. The cover design was a silhouette of a bride and groom. It was a big hit with the giddy crowd.)
I am aware that this story of irreverence may be exactly why some traditionalists are scared about gays getting married. (And well they should be!) But those taking it perfectly seriously and very traditionally with no hint of rebellion were in the majority, especially in the days following that first.
Even on that first day, Lindasusan and Emily got married, too, and much more traditionally. Having just weeks before had their long-planned commitment ceremony, they were fully prepared. They both arrived wearing full bridal attire. Supervisor Jake McGoldrick married them in chambers with the Spanish Attorney General as a witness (he happened to be visiting).
In the week following, tuxedoed pairs of men became a common sight. I'd see them walking down the street with corsages and grins to match. I've seen dozens of occasions of strangers on the street bursting into cheers, giving flowers, shaking hands. The town is in a new boom on licensing fees from out of town couples. Just think of what next Valentine's Day will be like when the anniversaries come!
Wish you were here. Maybe you are!
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