Personal Voices: Wedding Whiplash

Whew! I have whiplash! First my wedding wasn't even dreamable. Then, suddenly, I was Sadie Married Lady, along with 7,400 other gay and lesbian folks hitching our hopes onto a fast-moving train through San Francisco. Now, the Supreme Court has stopped the forward motion – at least for now. What a ride!

Truth is for a very long time, marriage was not my thing. When I fell in love with Bonnie Hagenbaken at age 12, I instinctively knew that a conventional life would not be mine. When she whispered "Let's pretend to get married," I knew pretend was the operative word.

Later my feminism was fueled by watching in horror as even the smart girls spent months obsessing about weddings that would be years in the future, and worse, when those weddings happened, too many of my brilliant friends' lives faded to gray, their dreams deferred to those of their husbands. I quietly boycotted heterosexual weddings for the better part of two decades.

All this provided no preparation for the wonder of my own wedding earlier this month. Lydia and I – together six years, registered domestic partners – first got inspired when our friends started trekking up to San Francisco on Valentine's weekend, standing in the rain with their kids for hours, sending joyous photos across the Internet. But the decision was cinched by an email from my 10-year-old niece. For her current events class, Alice wrote that those opposed to the weddings in San Francisco were wrong. Why? "Because,” she wrote, “I have a lesbian aunt in California and she has a wonderful partner and they deserve to get married." So there.

We asked my best friend of 20 years, State Senator Sheila Kuehl, if she would do the honors, and on International Women's Day 2004 my beloved Lydia and I exchanged rings and vows on the steps of the Rotunda in San Francisco's City Hall. We were joined that day by five other couples – all together for 20 years or more, most of us a closely knit friendship circle of activists and artists.

Because Lydia and I believe that change will happen most profoundly when our love shines out, melting the fear and lies, this happy occasion started as much a public statement as a personal ceremony. I could feel Harvey Milk's spirit smiling down at us in that historic place, just feet away from where hatred struck him down a quarter century ago. It felt just great to reap the fruits of decades of gay rights activism.

But both of us were surprised at how personal the political also turned out to be. We were overwhelmed by the phone call and emails from around the country. My coworkers decorated our entire house with lavender and white flowers and streamers to surprise us when we got back at midnight from San Fran. Lydia's surgery group at Kaiser gave us the perfect lesbian wedding present: a big ol' gift certificate to Home Depot. My mom had the best line: "Now I won't have to be Lydia's Mother Out-Law anymore."

Maybe we're just dizzy from our newlywed bliss, but I have a feeling those ripples of joy – ours and so many others – are going to break down archaic laws sooner than anyone would have imagined even a few months ago. And it feels pretty fabulous to be part of the tide of history.

Torie Osborn is the Executive Director of the Liberty Hill Foundation.

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