Witnessing History - 06.17.08
It all started at 7:00am when I mounted my bike to head down to the county clerk’s office. I had no idea what to expect, so I was kind of excited and scared at the same time. The night before, my friend, who just moved back to the Bay Area, asked me if I would be safe out there. I told him I would, that nobody was going to come and threaten our safety because this fight (the fight for our equal human rights) is a war of words being fought in the courts and at the polls. It’s possible that conversation left me a bit unnerved as I headed downtown, but I shook it off because I knew I needed to be there for my friends (old and new) today regardless.
When I reached the corner of M St. & Kern, what I saw took my breath away…
Before my eyes was quite a line of people - my friends - waiting in line to exercise their right to marry! The excitement of the moment swept me away… as it finally hit me that this was really happening. Forgive me for sounding cliché, but I never thought I would live to see this day… and here it was!
I’ll never forget the day the Supreme Court ruling came down. It was my last day as an undergraduate, so I was already spinning with excitement. I was with a friend who got a text about the ruling. I didn’t believe it. Then, about ten minutes later, I got a text from my partner about the ruling. Holy shit, it’s true?!? After that I went around telling everyone: The State Supreme Court has ruled that separate is STILL not equal, we have the right to marry!! Almost everyone I told immediately asked me: Are YOU getting married? “No way,” I said. Usually they looked at me quizzically until I followed up with “Why ruin a perfectly good relationship?” or “Been there, done that, wore out the t-shirt.”
I was celebrating people getting the right to do something I didn’t want to do myself. Some people thought that didn’t make any sense… yet really it did. It boils down to an issue of equal human rights… no different than any other struggle for equal rights that has come before… this is the civil rights movement of the early 21st century. Besides that extremely important bottom line, for the most part I didn’t feel like explaining exactly why I can’t get married…
…My partner of 12+ years and I can’t get married because, although we wouldn’t get any federal rights if we got married, I would lose my federal financial aid because she makes “too much” money. Think this through… the money she makes supports this family, but she gets ZERO federal tax breaks or benefits for supporting this family, so the IRS thinks she makes too much money and takes more and more of it from her every April 15th, so she has nothing left with which to pay for my education. Losing my financial aid wouldn’t destroy my opportunity to finish my education if she got the same tax breaks and benefits so many other Americans get as the result of being married and supporting a family. It’s a catch 22 situation for us…
Back to the day at hand: I knew I needed to be there, in spite of the fact that I wasn’t going to be getting married. Why? Three reasons:
- Many of my friends were getting married, or at least getting their licenses, and I wanted to be there to support them.
- I knew there would be protesters and I wanted to help ensure that the number of supporters outnumbered the number of protesters.
- I wanted to be there to witness history as it was happening!! I missed Stonewall… since I was a mere infant in 1969… and so many other things for so many other reasons. This was my chance to be a part of LGBT+ history in the making.
So, there they were… the line of my friends - old and new - waiting to go in and exercise their right to marry under the laws of the state of California… and I was filled with so many feelings. There is no other way to describe those feelings other than to say they were, for me, so much like the huge-sense-of-relief-mixed-with-pure-joy that comes after giving birth.
I had the tremendous honor and privilege of not only witnessing but also taking pictures for so many of those ceremonies. It was a long and emotional day, which I hope never to forget a moment of!
Just a few of my observations include:
- In spite of our obvious and understandable excitement as a community to be living those historic moments, we were extremely patient with, and respectful of, the process and those guiding us through that process. I was never so proud to call myself a part of any community in my entire life.
- The members of the Fresno County Clerk’s office staff, as well as Mr. Victor Salazar himself, were incredibly professional, helpful, and affirming. They truly went out of their way to make the day run as smoothly as possible, while also graciously accommodating to highly unusual crowds and circumstances.
- Our straight allies are incredible!! Seriously. To our allies I want to say: I see you… and I am so grateful for you. THANK YOU! From those of you who took time out of your schedules to come down to the clerk’s office and help perform marriage ceremonies, to those of you who simply saw the news about gay marriage and came down to the reception to show your support, to each and every one of you in between who supports and affirms members of the community on a daily basis… you are all such valuable and indispensable members of this LGBT+ community. To those I’ve met: I am honored to know you. To those I’ve not yet met: I look forward to knowing you. To each and every one of you: I can’t thank you enough.
It was a long and beautiful day, and there are so many people to thank for making it all possible. From Mayor Newsom’s choice to commit civil disobedience in order to end discriminatory marriage practices in San Francisco beginning in February 2004 - which really got this ball rolling - to the Marriage Caravan to DC in October 2004, to the individuals and organizations who worked so hard to prepare for this day, to the members of the State Supreme Court whose historic vote made this day possible, to the individuals and organizations who worked together so well to make the day and night go so smoothly: You know who you are… THANK YOU for doing what you do and being who you are.
Today we celebrate, because together we ARE making a difference. Tomorrow we will get right back to the work, because we have so far yet to go. I believe that together we WILL ultimately win this… our fight for equal civil rights.