The Satin Revolution
We didn’t schlep to San Francisco to shock Middle America.
We came for a wedding.

By Andrew Martin | Shortly before Presidents’ Day weekend, which happily included St. Valentine’s Day, the city of San Francisco got the green light from its new mayor to begin marrying same-sex couples. California’s constitution, he reasoned, plainly says that discrimination is illegal—so why are we discriminating? As news spread that a U.S. civil jurisdiction (and one with so many attractions for the gay traveler) was licensing gay marriages on equal terms with straight ones, gay couples all over the country dropped everything and drove or flew to San Francisco. My partner of five years and I were among them, racing up from Los Angeles.

To our relief and astonishment, on Monday, February 16, in the Chambers of the Board of Supervisors, at exactly 12 o’clock noon, my partner and I—excuse me, my husband and I—were morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably, and reliably wed. We’ve got a license and a certificate, as legally binding as the one my parents have (as I somewhat tactlessly gushed to my mom on the phone). Anyone want to take our license away, now that we have it? Just try.

When we heard what was going on up North, we agonized over whether to go for it, mostly because we weren’t sure what “it” was. We had always hoped to give each other the gift of marriage someday. But we’re realistic people. Recent state developments supporting the right to same-sex marriage (Hawaii, Vermont, Massachusetts) were encouraging, but frankly we figured we’d see some pretty outlandish stuff—non-polluting cars, decent schools, sensible tax and immigration laws—before we’d ever see our marriage validated in the U.S. Then suddenly … it’s here? We can do it, just like a straight couple?

We were dubious at first, certain that what San Francisco was offering would turn out to be another tortured, malformed half-measure that would put us on some list, and be tied up for years in court, and leave us further behind than before. There’ve been a lot of those lately. Or possibly it was some kind of kooky Bay Area “happening” (In which case, thanks—but we’ll go to Palm Springs instead.) Worst scenario of all—was this merely a political show to benefit a press-hungry new mayor? Would we be turned away if the mayor suddenly declared the stunt over, and the cameras moved on?

Luckily, we decided to chance the six-hour drive, though we had to thread the needle of work commitments over the weekend. Instead of a stunt, what we found happening at City Hall was nothing less than a revolution, and a deeply historic moment. Forget Massachusetts. Forget Vermont and Hawaii. Forget all the talk about constitutional amendments. It’s done, it’s over, it’s happened. On New Year’s Day there was not a single gay couple in America with a marriage license; today, there are thousands, in California, Oregon, New York.

People have jumped all over San Francisco’s young mayor for starting the whole thing, but that’s like blaming the fallen tree for causing the earthquake. America accepted my husband and myself into society years ago—landlords, employers, neighbors, friends, family, banks, advertisers on television, all welcome and honor our relationship. Why can’t the government call our marriage what it is—a marriage? That’s all San Francisco’s Mayor Newsom did. And that’s how most social revolutions come about—sympathetic administrators joining with frustrated citizens to change ossified rules that no longer reflect social realities.

Luckily, this one is a Satin Revolution—quiet, but smooth, strong and exquisite, shimmering with love. It is entirely without casualties. A few bureaucrats will have to add a few new fields to their databases, but that’s about it.

My husband and I certainly didn’t go to San Francisco to participate in a culture war, and I’m pretty sure the folks in line with us didn’t, either. We’re not activists. We didn’t schlep to San Francisco for an act of street theater, or to get on the TV news, shock Middle America, or push some abstract social cause two inches forward. We went for a wedding—we had hearts and flowers in our heads, not slogans.

The whole thing was completely G-rated—no dykes-on-bikes, no muscular six-foot drag queens, no chanting protesters duking it out with snarling fundamentalists. Just a bunch of mostly middle-aged, middle-class people huddled on a dirty sidewalk in a freezing rain, standing in line for their chance at a no-frills justice-of-the-peace elopement.

We were just some folks sipping hot coffee, sharing food, telling jokes, patiently waiting for the doors of Middle America to open once more. Because, after all, Middle America is our native land. It’s where we were born and raised—in prosperity, mostly, with loving families, complete with mortgages, car trouble, credit cards, school, job, church. But then we grew up, and while our brothers and sisters inherited the whole shebang, we found ourselves shunted off into this weird, half-tolerated/half-ignored limbo, where we can have the school and the mortgage and the car and the dog, but definitely not the family part. We got the family part back on President’s Day—and that is a huge deal—both for us, and for our straight fellow citizens.

If you don’t think this qualifies as a revolution, think back to the first stirrings in September 1989, when the ugly Iron Curtain splitting the world came down. A few hundred East Germans were denied permission to travel to the West, so they got the brilliant idea to drive across the border to Prague, ditch their crappy cars, and hop the fence of the West German Embassy en masse. And since embassies are technically sovereign territory of their governments, they were already in West Germany, right?

They camped in the embassy gardens for weeks, filthy, unshaven, hungry, refusing to budge, to gain something that nearly all parties agreed was a simple, fundamental human right—to travel freely—but which nobody, East or West, found it convenient to give them. Within a year, Eastern Europe was free and the Cold War was over. Poof. They called it the Velvet Revolution.

Our Satin Revolution might seem vastly different from what happened in Prague 15 years ago, but I’d bet the scenes we encountered in San Francisco wouldn’t seem unfamiliar to the people who actually jumped the fence and sat down in the muddy Lobkowicz gardens, waiting for their visas.

The courts will be chewing on this for a while, but with real couples holding real licenses, the issue is no longer theoretical. Americans may be conservative, but we are also fair, and proud of our history of expanding civil rights. To say that my sister’s license to marry the person of her choice is valid, but mine isn’t, would be an embarrassing denial of that history. Throw out my marriage, and Americans will have to throw the whole national story into the trash with it. I’m pretty sure nobody is going to vote for that.

In the end, we were married in filthy, sopping-wet clothes, unshaven, on the fly. But it was beautiful. We had thought we were going for an anonymous, back-door elopement—but every couple who walked out the brass doors and down those marble steps that weekend was cheered by a throng of elated well-wishers, as if each of us were the star attractions at a big celebrity wedding. We cried, we kissed, we hugged strangers, we took pictures. Now we go forth to live our lives together, and America will quickly see that we are no threat to anybody. In a generation or less, last year’s hastily written backlash laws about “only a man and a woman” will seem as wrong-headed, panicky, and un-American as the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Vive la Révolution Americaine!

Andrew Martin C’86 is a screenwriter and motion picture development consultant blissfully starving in Los Angeles with his actor husband.


2004 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 02/27/04


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