Witnessing weddings

Inspired by Heather's comments the other day (thanks, Heather!), I headed up to San Francisco today to watch same-sex couples get married.

Of course, I didn't actually see them get married. But I stood outside City Hall with, oh, maybe a couple hundred other people, and cheered and applauded every time a couple came out the front doors, and took photos that I'm pretty sure didn't come out very well.

And grinned so hard my face hurt.

I drove up to Millbrae and took BART the rest of the way, arriving around 2:45 p.m., just before it started to rain a little. The small crowd of protesters across the street disappeared when the rain began, but most of the supporters stayed.

A man made two parallel lines of long-stem roses down the middle of the steps, forming the edges of a ten-foot-wide path down the steps. Every couple of minutes, a newly married couple would appear at the top of the steps. The most common pattern was that the couple would come out the doors, looking a little bewildered and a little shy and very very happy, often holding hands, usually with a couple of their friends behind them as witnesses (and often with one or more small children); they would pause at the top of the steps while everyone applauded and cheered. Sometimes they would kiss, sometimes wave the clear-plastic-envelope-enclosed marriage license. Sometimes they would yell something, like (as one couple called out) "We're from Ohio!" Someone who was taking Polaroids would run up and hand them a photo. The couple would proceed down the steps as people toward the front of the crowd threw flower petals and rice. Someone would offer the couple cupcakes from a big box—"wedding cake." The couple would continue down the steps and through the crowd, acknowledging congratulations as they went.

The couples were all ages (some looked like teenagers, some had white hair) and a variety of races (a lot of caucasians, quite a few people of apparently Asian descent, some Latinos, very few African-Americans; a fair number of mixed-race couples, too). Some wore tuxedos, others wore jeans and T-shirts.

Every few minutes, a cluster of cars would go by, honking and waving. (Sometimes the cars contained people who'd just gotten married.) At one point a tour bus drove by, and people inside waved, and the driver honked. Oh, and there were various people in the crowd who'd gotten married in the past couple days and had come back to volunteer or just to be there; one gray-haired just-married guy was handing out Hershey kisses.

Around 3:30, some city official came out with a bullhorn and told us—with great delight—that the city had married over 1500 same-sex couples since they started on Thursday. He told us that the line was closed, that only those already inside would be married today, and that if we wanted to get married we should come back tomorrow. We should not, he told us, stay out in the rain any longer; we should go home and not get sick. About half the crowd left; the rest of us stayed. I felt that it was all the more important to stay and cheer at that point; I wouldn't have wanted those who were toward the end of the line to feel unsupported. But even so, by 4:15 the flow had slowed to a trickle, and I headed home even though I was pretty sure there were still some people getting married inside. (There was still a fair crowd left to cheer them.)

As I left, I saw the line of people running down the block, and realized that a few dozen people were planning to stay overnight to be first in line in the morning.

Best comment I overheard from the crowd, just one observer commenting to another: "It makes me wonder: What else can we just go ahead and do?"

Frank Chu, the odd "twelve galaxies" guy, was there, standing next to the City Hall doors, but he didn't seem to be talking. There was a guy gathering signatures on ballot petitions, who kept saying what the petition was for, and I thought he said something about marriage, but when he got to me and I expressed interest, the petitions he gave me were one for open primaries and another for stem-cell research. (The stem-cell research one was to guarantee that it would be legal to do therapeutic cloning; I wasn't so thrilled with the bit that said it would definitely be illegal to do reproductive cloning, but what the hell, I signed it anyway.) There were a bunch of Kucinich supporters waving signs that noted that Kucinich is in favor of gay marriage, and urging people to vote for him on March 2. There was a guy who was there with his girlfriend, who spent at least an hour telling everyone who would listen that he was a singer and dancer, that he'd grown up in SF and loved it here, that he was here with his girlfriend but he thought this was wonderful, that he was so overwhelmed that he just had to sing and dance. Toward the end he went up on the rain-soaked steps and performed some song I could barely hear (I forget what), pirouetting and tipping his fedora. I suspect he wasn't quite all there, but he may just have been overcome with emotion, who knows. The only thing that really bugged me about him was that in that last bit he was upstaging the couples who were still coming out the door behind him—but I forgave him for that when he turned around just as two young men came out the door wearing tuxedos, and he enveloped them both in a big hug. They were surprised, but they took it in good spirits.

Anyway. It was a lovely afternoon. If you're in the Bay Area and you're free on Monday, I highly recommend going by. In fact, if you get there at or before 10 a.m., you could volunteer to help out; they seemed to be short on volunteers to help guide couples to the right rooms and to act as witnesses for couples who didn't bring their own. I'd have loved to have been a witness, but not enough to drag myself up there by 10 tomorrow morning.

This all may come tumbling down on Tuesday. The city will almost certainly have to stop performing the ceremonies, and I imagine the marriages are likely to be invalidated en masse sometime soon. (For those not following the legal issues: Californians passed a ballot measure not long ago that defined marriage as one man and one woman, so by that measure these marriages were illegal; however, Gavin Newsom, new mayor of SF, claims that that law was unconstitutional under the state constitution (which guarantees equality).) And who knows, there may yet be backlash, up to and including an amendment to the state constitution.

But I can't bring myself to regret it, even so. Today was marvelous; I've never seen anything quite like it. History in the making.

I don't know if I'll get around to posting any photos, but Catherine O. pointed me to some photos from Friday that are worth looking at.

11 Responses to “Witnessing weddings”

  1. Vera Nazarian

    Thanks for posthing this, how awesome!!! 🙂

  2. Simon Owens

    There weren’t any protestors there trying to ruin all the fun?

  3. Arcadia Falcone

    It looks like you arrived at City Hall just as I was leaving (I got there at 8:30 a.m. to be a volunteer). I wrote a bit about my experiences on my livejournal, if you’re interested:


    What a marvelous day!

  4. naomi_traveller

    I’m not sure there is an urgent need for volunteers… They are getting a *lot* of offers — at a certain point, coordinating the volunteers becomes a logistical challenge in itself. Best to show up early if you can.

    The Chronicle article below mentions some of Sunday’s volunteers.


  5. Jed

    Simon: Yeah, there was a small group of protesters across the street, who mostly left when the rain started.

    Arcadia: That’s fabulous! Excellent writeup. Everyone else, go read it. 🙂

    Naomi: Interesting; I’ve now heard several contradictory statements about whether there’s a need for volunteers or not. One volunteer today, leaving around 3:15ish I think, said they definitely needed more, and the official who came out with the bullhorn said they were running on a skeleton crew; but that article you pointed to and Arcadia’s LJ seem to suggest that they have plenty of volunteers. So, I dunno.

    If I’d realized there was another long line around the back, I’d have gone over there to take photos. But maybe it was mostly gone by the time I got there.

    …Wow, that’s a lovely article, Naomi.

    Thank you all for the comments!

  6. Gwenda B

    Thanks for posting a firsthand account. It’s all so beautiful it leaves me without words.

  7. Jenn Reese

    Awesome, Jed! Thanks for posting. I can’t stop grinning!

  8. TracyL

    I don’t normally cry at weddings, especially ones for people I’ve never even met. But between your marvelous account and the photos, I’m going to need to go out for more kleenex! *GRIN*

    Thanks for sharing. Sure, some stupid politician will try to undo this great goodness. But Pandora tried to close the box, too.

  9. Dan

    I’m with TracyL…


  10. Joe Sutliff Sanders

    Wow, what a nice write-up, Jed! Thanks for sharing.

    Oh, and I agree with your assessment of what that one bystander said: What else should we just get off our asses and do because it’s right, whether or not the law has caught up with morality?

  11. Fran

    In honor of Pride Weekend, check out SF Gate
    which lists the names of married couples as links with a photo to an album.


Join the Conversation