Saturday, February 12, 2005

San Francisco's Winter of Love

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The Dharma Bums asked their good friends Tara and Nickie to write about their wedding in San Francisco last February. In honor of the historic Winter of Love, here is their story.

Nicole and I met on an internet dating service. Never in my wildest dreams did I think this curious experiment in meeting people would end up the way it did. Our first date was a casual lunch in the lovely garden courtyard of The Crepe Place. We both laughed on the way out, “Hey, that was fun! Not so bad!” We agreed to meet for a movie in a week. I was smitten. She thought I was “real relationship material.” The whirlwind began.

Early on in our dating, Nickie would say, “If marriage were legal for us, I’d marry you in a hot minute!” Never did she ask if I wanted to – she didn’t have to. We can’t even remember how we ended up discussing living together and blending our families. We both just knew. I was feeling seventeen again; flush in love and lust and hanging out together.

We’ve endured the challenge of blending two households together. We take care of business, get the kids fed and out the door in the morning. I’m often surprised at how relatively easy it is to be with her, and how much easier my life is with her in it. Thinking about writing this, I asked her if it’s been easy for her. Typical Nick response, “It sure hasn’t been hard.” I’m the effusive one.

Nicole and I have now been together 5 1/2 years and are coming up on our one-year wedding anniversary. Last year, we had been planning a commitment ceremony for the summertime, when we heard the news that San Francisco was issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. I thought, “This must be a rumor! No way!” When we confirmed the news, it was as if an electric charge was in the air all around us. It was a chance to be married, a chance to make a political statement and be a part of civil rights history.

On Friday February 20 we drove the 90 miles north to San Francisco and joined the line that looped around the large city block that was City Hall. The mood was festive, the people fun, upbeat, loving and silly. It was a 2004 version of a San Francisco Love-In. Folks were driving up in their cars to deliver food, juice, water, flowers and good wishes. Of course, we were assailed by the usual homophobic radical religious folks—holding their signs condemning us to hell. The cops finally made them stop using their bull horns to ‘celebrate’ our special day. We alternately yelled and laughed at them—lots of ex-Catholics in the crowd!

We waited outside City Hall for hours and were moved inside when it began to drizzle rain. City Hall accommodated the hundreds of couples by allowing us to form lines that snaked through the basement labyrinth of the city government. Endless lines. Weary, but determined, we were. At 5 p.m. they had to close City Hall, but many volunteers made sure that each couple had an appointment to return the following week for their wedding.

We came away with an appointment to be married Monday February 23 at noon. Carol and Cate had spent the day with us in line on Friday. They had flown in from Connecticut! We made our appointments together to celebrate our new friendship and to witness for one another.

Our wedding date was too last minute for friends or family to join us, and we didn’t want to wait since no one knew when the state was going to step in and put a stop to issuing the licenses. We drove back to the city on Monday. I was in contact with my sister via cell phone, it was the next best thing. We filed our license, profoundly aware of the personal and political implications of our actions. Talk about pressure! I remember breathing deeply into Nickie’s leather jacket, loving the smell and feeling reassured.

We were introduced to our wedding commissioner and climbed the steps to the upper level of the hall’s rotunda. Across the expanse was the door to Mayor Gavin Newsome’s office. An auspicious location. Cate and Carol married first. Nick and I married next. All four of us were fighting back tears so we could get through our vows. Nick squeezed my hands so tightly I thought I would lose them. I held a bouquet of flowers sent to City Hall by a couple in Illinois -- people from around the US sent flowers and gifts for all of us. We felt our wedding circle grow ever larger. People all across this country, Canada, The Netherlands, Great Britain, were sending their well wishes and love. The San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir was on the steps below us, singing “Going to the Chapel,” their voices magnified in the domed hall.

Afterwards we celebrated with lunch. As we made our way to the restaurant, two obviously very happy couples of women, holding flowers and marriage certificates, people stopped us on the street to say congratulations. Love was in the air! Other wedding parties in the restaurant called out greetings and waved their flowers.

I can’t remember a time when I felt so surrounded by love and good will. It was one of the most profound days of my life, right up there with the birth of my daughter. In the days that followed, I sent our wedding announcement to the newspapers, to our local Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Center, to my family. Old friends and acquaintances came out of the woodwork to say congratulations. Wedding gifts! We got them!

Since then, however, the state has invalidated all of the same-sex licenses issued in the “winter of love,” and the legal issues are pending. All of our legal protections were taken away in one fell swoop. Suddenly we were, once again, second class citizens.

We have faith. We laugh, and call each other “my ex.” I know someday, when the legal arguments finally persuade, I’ll be able to sign another marriage license with her, and maybe then our grandchildren will come to the wedding.

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