I live in Oakland, California, right over the Bay Bridge from San Francisco. I’m usually pretty leery of what goes on over there, in large part because it’s sport for the folks on the western side of the bay to try to make themselves look important by putting us down. But something remarkable happened in Fog City on February 12 of 2004 - right on time for Valentine’s Day. Then mayor Gavin Newsome ordered the clerks in city hall to start issuing marriage licenses to male/male and female/female couples.
I was raised to believe that people are people, born with the same hopes and needs and rights as everyone else. As a result, I was always for equal justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender men and women. I was proud to make my home in a part of the country where LGBT Americans could live openly as who they are. So, I was excited that San Francisco was marrying same sex couples, even if the exact status of their marriages outside the city wouldn’t be clear.
Looking back from nine years later, I don’t remember exactly what I expected to see going on in SF city hall. I was probably thinking of something like the Pride Parade - a lot of flamboyant fun. Instead, the images on my television were so…well…ordinary. People; some young, some old; some slender, some plush; some pretty, some not so much. Different heights and different ethnicities. But all just regular folks. Some were dressed in tuxes and wedding dresses. Some brought their children with them.
The citizens of San Francisco made it into a great party. Florists sent flowers. Bakeries sent cakes. I had half a mind to go over there wearing a sign “I’ll cry at your wedding,” because I spent a lot of time watching the television with happy tears in my eyes. All these ordinary people were finally exercising the right that I had when I’d married my husband. Who knew how long some of them had waited for their special day?
My thinking had a tectonic shift from watching those weddings. I’d always been for equal rights, and I’d figured what consenting adults did in their bedrooms was their business. Now, I realized that what I was talking about was love, not sex. Sure, physical intimacy comes with love, but it doesn’t define love or encompass all of love’s complexity. Think of all he innocent things people in love do to show affection. Flowers, cards, touches, pecks on the cheek - acts you can do in front of the children. Now, these couples could enjoy all of those little treasures with the blessing of the City and County of San Francisco.
Sadly, the marriages ended in San Francisco after a few weeks, and same sex couples weren’t allowed to marry again in California until June of 2008, when a state Supreme Court ruling made marriage equality the law. Then, even more tragically, on election day in November of 2008 the state constitution was amended by ballot initiative to disallow gay and lesbian couples from exercising their full rights as citizens. Proposition Eight, or as we like to call it, Prop H8. My state has swung back and forth and ended up in the wrong place, but in my heart, I know the setback is only temporary.
In the meantime, other states are moving toward justice and love and away from fear and ignorance. In Massachusetts, loving same sex couples have been free to marry since shortly after Gavin Newsom’s gutsy move. Now, twelve states and the District of Columbia have come over to the side of fairness.
The sky hasn’t fallen. The marriages of heterosexual couples are still intact. The more we see happily married men with men and women with women…and their children…the more we discover how perfectly ordinary the whole thing is.
As soon as we have equality back in California, where it started that Valentine’s Day weekend in 2004, the church I attend will have weddings for our same sex couples who want to commit to each other until death do them part. I’ll sit in my pew and bawl like a baby. I can’t wait!
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