taking pride in marriage equality: San Francisco, June 2013

An edited version of this piece appeared in the July 11, 2013 edition of the SF Bay Times.

Best San Francisco Pride ever? There’s certainly a good case to be made that the answer enthusiastically is “Yes!” At a minimum, I think I can state without exaggeration that Pride in 2013, due to the momentous decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit that week, along with a prompt, powerful and fully supportive response to those decisions on the part of city and state officials, marked a unique and historic moment for our city, especially in regards to marriage equality.

For same-sex couples who married in California in 2008 before Prop 8 was enacted, for those legally married in other marriage equality states in the U.S., and for those marrying thereafter, Pride week marked the moment these marriages were no longer subject to a “not-recognized-by-the-federal-government” caveat, no longer just the “skim milk” marriages highlighted by Justice Ginsburg during oral arguments in Edie Windsor’s case challenging the constitutionality of DOMA.

For the estimated tens of thousands of same-sex couples where one spouse or partner is a foreign national, Pride week spelled an end to the cruel and heartbreaking choice between love and country previously forced upon them by the government.

For LGBT Californians, Pride week meant finally fully enjoying the same freedom and opportunity regarding marriage – whether to marry, whom to marry, and when to marry – already available to and often taken for granted by our siblings, friends, and colleagues.

For San Franciscans and visitors in person at City Hall and the Civic Center marriage pavilion and for millions across the globe via television and the Internet watching so many happy, loving committed couples getting married – in the only city in the state that granted licenses to and conducted marriages for same-sex couples throughout the weekend – Pride week opened a window onto a brighter tomorrow where love wins, equality triumphs, and freedom more truly rings.

And for LGBT people all across America, Pride week saw one more brick pried loose from the wall of inequality and indignity, and brought us one week closer to that wall tumbling completely into dust. It offered a ray of hope that all state marriage bans might soon be a thing of the past, albeit tempered with disappointment that the Court’s procedural punt in the Prop 8 case forestalled a sweeping decision that could have brought marriage equality to all Americans now rather than later. It demonstrated real progress for LGBT equality, however unevenly distributed it might be for now. And to many LGBT Americans and their most intimate relationships and their families, though regrettably not all, it accorded greater “dignity,” to use a word frequently repeated by Justice Kennedy in his majority opinion overturning DOMA Section 3.

Hope, Progress, Dignity. It even has the ring of a Pride theme. 2014 Pride committee, be my guest.

To be sure, the end of Prop 8 and DOMA Section 3 doesn’t mean the fight for marriage equality is over. Far from it: There still are 37 states where we aren’t yet free to marry whom we love, and the legal status of our marriages as we cross state borders remains very much unresolved. And even though many more of us now enjoy the freedom to marry, far too many of us still live in cities and states where we legally may be fired just for putting a photo of our spouse on our desk, or for asking for the same spousal benefits that our colleagues already enjoy.

So we all need to roll up our sleeves and keep doing the hard work to ensure that the right to marry the person one loves – along with the right to employment free from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression – doesn’t depend on one’s zip code. One easy way to become involved in winning marriage equality across the U.S. is to sign up for Marriage Equality USA’s National Equality Action Team (NEAT) initiative.

On a personal note, for my fiancé Jeff and me, Pride week will merit at least two spots among our personal “where were you when…” moments. I will never forget what we were doing or where we were – tearfully embracing and joyfully cheering in the Rotunda of San Francisco City Hall – early Wednesday morning when Prop 8 and DOMA Section 3 lost at the Supreme Court, and again just two days later when love won and wedding bells began to ring once more for same-sex couples in California.

For the two of us, that last week in June will occupy a singularly important and revered place in our hearts and our shared history. On Friday, June 28, Jeff and I were fortunate to be at City Hall to watch Prop 8 plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier proclaim their marriage vows to each other, and to be pronounced “spouses for life.” After witnessing that emotional and historic moment from mere feet away, we made our own way downstairs to the clerk’s office.

In August, 2010, marriage license application in hand, we’d been near the front of the line at that same office full of hope that Judge Walker would rule Prop 8 unconstitutional, only to leave empty-handed, crying tears of frustration and disappointment, when that hoped-for ruling was stayed.

This time, though, after ten years together and nearly five years after Prop 8 was enacted, we walked out of the clerk’s office back into the Rotunda, beaming and crying tears of joy, surrounded by friends and well-wishing strangers, with our marriage license in hand. Moments later, about 100 members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus filled the space with love and song, serenading Kris and Sandy and the many other couples marrying that afternoon with an excerpt of “San Francisco” from the new oratorio, I Am Harvey Milk. As I listened, once again full of hope, with my arm around Jeff’s shoulders and his around my waist, I was reminded of Harvey Milk’s words, “I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living… Gotta give ’em hope.”

About that favorite word of his, Harvey also said, “Hope will never be silent.” In September, Jeff and I will be back at City Hall once more.

And we’ll be the couple affirming loudly, hopeful for the future, with dignity, and with pride, “I do.”

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