By Andrew Martin | Shortly before Presidents Day weekend, which happily included St. Valentines Day, the city of San Francisco got the green light from its new mayor to begin marrying same-sex couples. Californias constitution, he reasoned, plainly says that discrimination is illegalso 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 oclock noon, my partner and Iexcuse me, my husband and Iwere morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably, and reliably wed. Weve 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 werent sure what it was. We had always hoped to give each other the gift of marriage someday. But were realistic people. Recent state developments supporting the right to same-sex marriage (Hawaii, Vermont, Massachusetts) were encouraging, but frankly we figured wed see some pretty outlandish stuffnon-polluting cars, decent schools, sensible tax and immigration lawsbefore wed ever see our marriage validated in the U.S. Then suddenly its 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. Thereve been a lot of those lately. Or possibly it was some kind of kooky Bay Area happening (In which case, thanksbut well go to Palm Springs instead.) Worst scenario of allwas 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. Its done, its over, its happened. On New Years 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 Franciscos young mayor for starting the whole thing, but thats like blaming the fallen tree for causing the earthquake. America accepted my husband and myself into society years agolandlords, employers, neighbors, friends, family, banks, advertisers on television, all welcome and honor our relationship. Why cant the government call our marriage what it isa marriage? Thats all San Franciscos Mayor Newsom did. And thats how most social revolutions come aboutsympathetic administrators joining with frustrated citizens to change ossified rules that no longer reflect social realities.
Luckily, this one is a Satin Revolutionquiet, 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 thats about it.
My husband and I certainly didnt go to San Francisco to participate in a culture war, and Im pretty sure the folks in line with us didnt, either. Were not activists. We didnt 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 weddingwe had hearts and flowers in our heads, not slogans.
The whole thing was completely G-ratedno 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. Its where we were born and raisedin 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 Presidents Dayand that is a huge dealboth for us, and for our straight fellow citizens.
If you dont 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 rightto travel freelybut 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 Id bet the scenes we encountered in San Francisco wouldnt 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 sisters license to marry the person of her choice is valid, but mine isnt, 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. Im 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 elopementbut 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 years 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!
C86 is a screenwriter and motion picture development consultant blissfully
starving in Los Angeles with his actor husband.
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