By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
We were both at work on Thursday when a colleague bolted into my office with the news.
“They’re marrying same-sex couples in San Francisco,” she said.
Less than 24 hours later, Melissa and I were in line with 100 other couples outside City Hall. It was 7:45 in the morning, 15 minutes before the county clerk’s office opened. A city official handed out marriage-license applications, and passing drivers honked their support. No protesters yet lined the sidewalks, and only a few news vans were parked along the street.
This was actually our second wedding day. In August, we exchanged vows and rings in front of family and friends. That first wedding had been completely about us — our love, our promises to each other. Now we were fighting for our place in society, joined by hundreds of others. I was also fighting back tears. At the security checkpoint, a guard caught Melissa’s eye and congratulated her. This wasn’t a typical day for City Hall workers either.
Inside, the line for the county clerk’s office wound around a corner and down the hall into the rotunda. Trying to peek ahead, I wondered if the courts would reverse Mayor Gavin Newsom’s order to issue same-sex-couple marriage licenses before we got our turn. To ease my nervousness, I phoned friends back in L.A. to give updates and receive any news. A co-worker had just told me that a hearing date for arguments on an injunction wasn’t likely to take place until Tuesday, when roaring cheers interrupted the call. The first couple in line rounded the corner waving their brand-new marriage license. I started crying again.
A city official arriving for work stopped in the hallway. Grinning wide and raising his arms triumphantly, he said to no one in particular, “Look at this!” He stood on a chair to take pictures of the line, filled with couples of every age and appearance: women with leather collars and tattoos, men in business suits, people in dresses, tuxedos and jeans. A few feet ahead of us, a 10-year-old girl took pictures of her two moms on a digital camera, then calmly explained to a television crew that her mothers should be able to get married.
The line moved more quickly now. Dressed in white shirts and jeans, Melissa and I realized we wouldn’t have time to change into the skirts we had brought. We smiled at each other; what we wore wasn’t important today.
Finally, we stepped into the noisy, crowded clerk’s office. When they called our number — 72 — the clerk looked at our paperwork and said with a laugh, “You guys came all the way up from Los Angeles to get married?”
He took our application and $82, then disappeared to type up the license. For a quiet moment, my wife and I sat alone, looking at each other with the same love and emotion we felt on our first wedding day.
Moments later we were off, clutching our marriage license. Four or five commissioners and officials were marrying couples on the massive marble staircase that dominated the hall’s center.
The line was short. Our witnesses, Melissa’s cousin Jason and my friend Alda, hadn’t arrived yet. Two men in line with us, Monte and Peter, asked us to be their witnesses, giving us a preview of our own ceremony. The area at the top of the staircase was crowded with camera crews, reporters, couples and witnesses.
Their wedding was short but solemn. We took pictures and signed the newlyweds’ certificate, wishing them well.
Then it was our time. Commissioner Richard Ow, a deputy marriage commissioner, positioned us at the top and center of the stairs. The air glowed with sunlight and spotlights from a CNN camera crew. He told us he was very happy to perform our ceremony and even seemed choked up. Later Melissa confessed that the part of the ceremony most special to her was also the least romantic: “With the power vested in me by the state of California . . .”
Those 11 little words were the only thing missing from our first wedding, and Ow had just granted us the rights that come with them.
When the ceremony ended, we hugged our friends and thanked the commissioner. Then we went to the recorder’s office, where we entered public record and paid for two certified copies of our marriage certificate. By 10:30 a.m., we were officially hitched.
Alda demanded that we celebrate immediately with champagne and lunch at a waterfront restaurant. We spent the afternoon phoning friends and family, then we returned to City Hall that evening for a wine-and-cheese reception hosted by the mayor. Even at that hour, couples were still being married. The man who married Monte and Peter was performing ceremonies as reverently as he had been nine hours earlier.
The mayor entered the crowd to chants of “Gav-in! Gav-in!”
Newsom exuded dignity and charm as he circulated around the room, congratulating newlyweds, posing for pictures, and signing marriage certificates for triumphant couples. When we shook his hand, he spoke to us as though we were the only two people in the room.