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Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2004
In S.F., debate on gay nuptials marked by joy

Mercury News

Boston and San Francisco are often compared for their similarities.   But of the two cities that bookended a historic week in the debate on gay marriage, I know which place I'd rather have been this holiday.

I'd choose the city of joy.

Infectious, unadulterated joy, sparked by this unprecedented five-day run of gay-marriage ceremonies that was part civil disobedience, part political statement, part Woodstock Nation.

In Boston, the weight of social conservatism and controversy lay heavily in the air as Massachusetts legislators debated whether to put a constitutional amendment codifying gay marriage before the state's voters.   Demonstrators in the culture wars drew positions outside the Capitol on Beacon Hill.   Legislators wearily recessed until March 11 after failing to reach a compromise.

In San Francisco, however, volunteers smiled through the night Sunday, brought hot cocoa and food to couples and families who were wrapped around the block, braving cold and downpour to wait their turn to exchange vows.   As word spread Friday the exultant crowds kept coming — by car, by taxi, by bus, by plane.   People took photographs, flashed peace signs and knew they were at the heart of something historic.   Children — toddlers, babes-in-arms, schoolchildren — were everywhere.

A part in history

No organization on Earth could have managed this for five consecutive days.   No one, not even the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, could have orchestrated this swelling wed-in.   What could induce couples from Miami to Minneapolis to fly in, inspire civil servants to work through a three-day holiday weekend, and bring out volunteers in the dreariest of weather? Wonder upon wonder, what could prompt people to repeatedly thank workers for giving up their holiday?

Years from now, said Donna deSouza, whose partner, Jody Smith, was eight months pregnant, they'll be able to show their daughter the certificate on the wall and say, ``It gave momentum to a movement.''

DeSouza, who is originally from Trinidad, is a land surveyor who sees old restrictive race covenants on original deeds all the time.   Covenants that prevented owners from selling to blacks or Asians.   Covenants that were once legal and since ruled unconstitutional.   Gay marriage, she asserted, will rest on court rulings.

This is one of the last fronts in the civil rights arena.   And it looks nothing like Stonewall, nothing like Selma, nothing like Alcatraz.   We are in a different time.

Standing under the soaring rotunda of the 1916 beaux-arts City Hall, I paused for a moment amid the buzz.   ``The music is beautiful,'' a woman next to me said in a hushed voice.   In black tie, Peninsula Symphony flutist David Latulippe and harpist Michael Steadman were playing Pachelbel's Canon in D. Latulippe married his partner of 17 years under the rotunda Sunday, he said, and he was giving back.

Feelings, not analysis

Across the country, my friend Karen, the eldest of an Irish Catholic Boston-area family of eight, compared notes with me.   She spent nearly 20 years in the Bay Area before moving back East.   San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who set this in motion, has the same religious upbringing as she does.   Now ensconced in Washington, D.C., and an avid viewer of inside-the-Beltway news programs, my friend wondered: Why did the mayor do this?

Certainly it solidified a base of gay voters, an important constituency in the city.   Newsom was former Mayor Willie Brown's heir apparent.   Was he trying to prove he was his own man, she asked?

I knew she couldn't feel what was going on in City Hall 3,000 miles away.   One had to be there.

Superior Court opens this morning.   Judge James Warren may decide whether to order the city to stop performing the ceremonies.   It could go to federal courts.

Let what comes come.   More than 2,400 couples and their families will always have those five amazing days in February.



For archives, these articles are being stored on website.
The purpose is to advance understandings of environmental, political,
human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues.