By: Pauline Marx, City and County of San Francisco
“License = $99. Ceremony = $75. Both = $174. Equality = Priceless.”
These are the words on a small sign hanging outside the San Francisco County Clerk’s Office this week.
San Francisco is always a great place to view the local perspective on national change. Last Wednesday’s (June 26) U.S. Supreme Court decisions striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and declaring California Proposition 8 (which banned gay marriage in California) unconstitutional was no exception.
A crowd led by Mayor Edwin M. Lee, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, members of the Board of Supervisors and other San Francisco leaders gathered in the City Hall rotunda to hear the court decision at 7am on Wednesday. This was followed by a news conference and some smooching on the City Hall steps. On Friday afternoon at 4 pm, as I was being sworn in as a Deputy Marriage Commissioner, we received word that the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had lifted the stay on its ruling declaring the discriminatory Proposition 8 unconstitutional, clearing the way for same-sex couples to begin marrying in California and that the first wedding, that of plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, would be happening within the next hour.
The marriage ceremony took place on the Mayor’s balcony on the second floor which, if you are familiar with the building, is visible from many places in the City Hall rotunda. I could barely hear the ceremony from across the large room, but I was deeply affected by the applause directed at the brides immediately after the ceremony. The entire audience clapped, cheered and cried!
The City made the decision to keep City Hall open until 8 pm on Friday to issue marriage licenses and perform weddings and also decided to hold the building open from 9-5 on Saturday and Sunday for the same purpose.
Sunday June 30 found me at City Hall doing that part of my job that is called “other duties as assigned.” Not really true, of course, since I was entirely a volunteer. San Francisco may have been the only place issuing marriage licenses in the State of California that weekend. Between 4:30 on Friday and 5 pm on Sunday, 563 marriage licenses were issued and 469 ceremonies performed. On Sunday, 236 licenses were issued and 218 ceremonies were performed. I was honored to be able to officiate at more than 20 weddings.
The couples and their witnesses and families began lining up at 6:30 am and a 2- 3 hour wait was not unusual. But the crowd was a happy one and no one complained about the wait. After all, many people had waited years and years to have the opportunity to marry. Most of the couples had been together for a long time. Among the couples for whom I performed a ceremony, 17 had been together longer than 10 years.
Someone wisely brought multiple boxes of tissues into the hall that we were using and I quickly realized that if I did not want to hand them out from my robe during the ceremony, I needed to tell my couples to take tissues with them. People told me that they weren’t going to cry, but for the most part they took the tissues anyway. It was a good thing that they did. When people repeated the words for the optional ring exchange (I give you this ring in token and pledge of my constant faith and abiding love. With this ring, I thee wed), most of them needed to pull out the tissues. The rest reached for the tissues when I said: “By virtue of the authority vested in me by the State of California, I now pronounce you spouses for life.” I have to say, that every time one of the brides or grooms cried, I cried too!
What a happy and teary day! When all was done, I left the building and was soon engulfed up by the Gay Pride Festival that was happening all around the civic center.
I asked one of the couples if I could include their photo in this column and this is what they said:
Nicole and I would be thrilled if you shared our history making ceremony details. We have waited so many years for our relationship to be legitimized, we now want to shout it from the roof tops. So you have our wholehearted endorsement and eternal gratitude the part in our wedding. So please share as you want.
Thank you again,
Stephanie and Nicole Welch
And now a public policy note…
When making a list of the things that are wrong with California, the initiative system always goes on my list (along with term limits). My arguments against the initiative process include: the unfortunate abandonment of representative government in favor of direct democracy, the likelihood of getting it a little bit wrong and not being able to amend, the likelihood of manipulation by wealthy special interests, etc. This distrust of the initiative system results in the voting slogan that we use in my family: Vote No in November!
This Supreme Court Prop 8 decision has abundant ramifications on the future of the initiative system in California and in the other states that use it.
Does this decision stifle the voice of the state voters and “give state officials the unchecked power to nullify ballot initiatives they dislike by refusing to enforce them or defend them in court”