Spouses for Life?

The California Supreme Court has ordered that San Francisco officials stop marrying same-sex couples. As a "militant homosexual activist," a label I've always adored, I'm surprised to say that my reaction to this news was not anger, outrage or even disbelief. Instead I got completely choked up. More than 4,100 same-sex couples were married in San Francisco in the past month, but this ruling means countless others will for now be denied that tremendous thrill. How sad.

Despite intense political debates and rhetoric about same-sex marriage being a weapon of mass destruction (at least the one George Bush can actually point to), I can honestly say that marrying my partner was one of the most thrilling moments of my life. All the politics fell away when I took his hands in mine and we said our vows.

We've been married almost a month, and I find myself as surprised about it now as I did the day we got hitched. I think it's fair to say that ours was not a typical American wedding day, and not just because we're gay men.

At 8:30 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 13, I called my partner at work. "Do you want to get married today?" I asked him.

He's a bather in a busy dog grooming shop. In the pause that followed my question I could hear a whole kennel of dogs barking and the loud hum of hair dryers.

"No, hon, not today," he said. "We've got a lot of dogs and I don't think I can leave early."

Bless his heart, but romance is not Keith's strong suit. "Is that OK?" he asked, perhaps realizing he had just declined a marriage proposal.

But it was OK. We hadn't talked about getting married because, heck, it had never before been an option. Besides, we've been together six years, have lived together five, been registered domestic partners for four years, and were already wearing matching gold rings. We've survived vacation disasters and each other's families, and our sex life has swerved on and off the road. In other words, we already were married. Except, of course, on paper.

Despite what President Bush says, I knew that heterosexual marriages -- and all of Western civilization -- would not be torn asunder by Keith and I saying "I do."

At noon, Keith's boss called. "Keith said if he can get off by three, he'll marry you!" she shouted.

"Tell him to hurry up," I said, and we both laughed.

Just past 3 p.m. the phone rang again. "I'm on my way home," Keith said, "Let's do it!"

I called our friends Amy and Gayle to ask if they'd be witnesses. As my dearest butch-lesbian friend, I wanted Amy to be my best man. "Gayle and I are thinking of getting married, too," she said.

I called another friend who said we had to be at City Hall by 4 p.m. We didn't know then that same-sex marriage mania had gripped the nation and that City Hall would remain open all weekend, and for weeks to come, to marry the masses.

Keith walked in just after 3:30 p.m., and moments later Amy rang our doorbell. She and Gayle were waiting outside in her Jeep. "No time to shower," I said, to Keith's great dismay. "We gotta go."

We stopped at the front door, caught our breath, looked at each other and hugged. "I love you," he said. "Let's go get married."

The four of us zipped downtown. We found parking, miraculously, four blocks from City Hall, and, as a light rain began to fall, ran the rest of the way.

Nothing could have prepared me for what awaited us inside: hundreds of excited couples in a line that snaked down stairs and around endless corridors. The place was absolutely abuzz. The line itself was a party: couples laughing, champagne corks popping, boxes of chocolates passed around, kids running back and forth, and people on cell phones trying to explain what was happening. "We're at City Hall. We're going to get married!" one woman kept shouting into her phone.

It was dizzying and hard to take in. Gayle called her sister, Julie, who rushed down to join us. Reporters and TV crews from San Francisco and beyond trolled the hallways for people to interview.

Hours passed, and we moved slowly toward the city clerk's office, still in disbelief. Soon Keith and I were filling out marriage license forms. But instead of bride and groom we were 'applicant one' and 'applicant two.'

We walked next into City Hall's grand lobby, where a crowded celebration was going full tilt. Jubilant couples and their friends were laughing and crying, and cheers and applause erupted on all sides as more and more people wed. "Yee ha! We're married!" I heard a man yell from somewhere up high where the ceremonies were taking place.

We took our place in line, and, all of a sudden, after all the waiting, Amy and Gayle, our friend Julie, and Keith and I were ushered over to a marriage commissioner named Richard. It was our turn.

Amy and Gayle went first, and I watched in amazement as one of my best friends married the woman she loves. It seemed unreal.

Keith and I took our place in front of Richard. Keith was wearing shorts, a T-shirt and a crooked baseball hat, and I was about to marry him. My heart was pounding. I was practically hyperventilating.

"Please remember that love, loyalty and understanding are the foundations of a happy and enduring home," Richard read from the vows. "No other human ties are more tender and no other vows are more important than those you are about to pledge."

My hands shook, tears fell, and my voice cracked as I repeated my vows and slipped Keith's gold ring back onto his finger. "I give you this ring in token and pledge of my constant faith and abiding love. With this ring, I thee wed." I could hardly speak.

Keith said his vows, slipped my ring on my finger, and we smiled at each other through tears. Instead of husband and wife, Richard pronounced us 'spouses for life.' We kissed.

The five of us hugged, laughed and cried, then stumbled in a stupor down to the assessor's office to pick up our official marriage licenses.

License in hand, and overcome with joy and excitement, I skipped out of the assessor's office in "We're off to see the Wizard" style. How fitting, I thought later, since San Francisco seemed more than ever like Oz.

Today, the curtain closed on the wizard.

Patrick Letellier is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. He can be reached at LetPatrick@yahoo.com, or PatrickLetellier.com.

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