San Francisco, I Love You!

I am amazed, thoroughly amazed and thrilled, that all of a sudden, in San Francisco and at least for a while in New Mexico, gay couples are being legally married.

Let that sink in for just a moment. Legally married. With full rights and responsibilities. Able to visit each other in the hospital. Eligible for spousal benefits. Allowed to file taxes jointly. Eligible for residency and citizenship. Able to register at Target. (OK, so you can register at Target whether gay marriage is legally recognized or not. But maybe Target and other stores will start allowing people to register as "bride" and "bride," rather than only as "bride" and "groom.")

Massachusetts officials will start performing gay weddings in May, and there are signs that other places may be following suit soon.

Yes, so there are still a dozen or more challenges to the legality of these marriages. And those challenges are serious, and it's important to mobilize against them, and against the Federal Marriage Amendment.

And there's no guarantee that any of the benefits I've outlined above will actually materialize.

But you know what? Just for now, just for a moment, I don't care. Gay couples are getting married. By justices of the peace. Officially.

At least for the moment, we are winning.

If you haven't yet, go and read some of the reports from the lines in front of San Francisco city offices. I can't read a single article about this without tearing up, and I don't think it's just because I'm PMS'ing right now. Couples with their kids, with grandmothers in wheelchairs, flying in or driving in from half a continent away - all getting their relationships legally sanctioned, getting that piece of paper that tells them that the state recognizes their relationship. Some of them have waited decades for this, having been married in all ways except the one that matters legally. Having a commitment ceremony, living together for thirty years, having a joint checking account - none of these things guarantee you the right to visit your comatose life partner in the hospital, or be with the child you have raised together in an emergency, as Massachusetts state senator Jarrett Barrios pointed out. But that little piece of paper does.

This is why the right to marry is such a big deal. It's not about the ceremony, and it's not about the gifts. It's about the legal rights that come with government recognition. According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, there are 1,049 legal rights, benefits and responsibilities that come with marriage. That's 1,049 rights, benefits and responsibilities denied same-sex couples, who in the eyes of the law are second-class citizens at best. That kind of discrimination should not be legal, and what's happening in San Francisco right now, and what will happen in Massachusetts come May, is our best hope for creating equality.

There's a movement afoot to buy bouquets for the people getting married in San Francisco. Flowers from the Heartland, it's called, because it was started by folks in Minnesota. Local San Francisco florists take orders from Minnesotans, Texans, Michiganders, whoever. Then they go to city hall and find couples in the line who don't have flowers, and give them flowers - a wedding bouquet from people they've never met. There's something about this that I find really moving - a material and personal reminder that regardless of what the Republican demagogues have to say, there's a whole lot of us who stand firmly behind those folks out there in San Francisco getting married. And it's something these couples can literally hold onto. If you don't have the money to buy a whole bouquet, you can do what we did and donate through the PayPal account that Darren Barefoot has created; he's collecting money and putting it all toward flowers. (He's called it "Flowers for Al and Don" - which I find very entertaining, although as a literature grad student I couldn't avoid the thought that "Flowers for Algernon" is all about gaining something and then losing it again, which I hope will have nothing whatsoever to do with anything.)

If giving people flowers isn't political enough for you, by all means take a moment and give some time or money to the Human Rights Campaign, or to Lambda Legal, two of the many political organizations working on the marriage issue. Or donate to a congressman who's always been strongly in favor of gay rights and who may lose his seat to the Texas redistricting fiasco. (The congressman in question, Lloyd Doggett, is not only my congressman, but one of the really good guys, which is why he was a personal target in the redistricting - and the election's coming up in a week.)

I don't know what's going to happen next, whether legal challenges will be successful, whether anyone will pass a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage, or if maybe, just maybe, we're about to see even more communities and states decide that it's not appropriate to discriminate against gay and lesbian partnerships and offer marriage licenses to whatever couples decide they want them. Maybe we'll see all of the above. It's impossible to predict, though it seems pretty clear that there are still a lot of struggles ahead.

But in looking down the road at the struggles to come, let's not lose sight of the fact that right now, we have cause to celebrate. This is a big step, a historic occasion; simply put, this is good.

Cynicism and pessimism be damned. Right now, I'm really hopeful.

And incredibly happy.


22. February 2004

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