The Battle Over Same-Sex Marriage: Out-of-towners leap at chance to wed in SF
Eric Miller and Rey Lacaba were joined in a civil union in Vermont two years ago — but it didn’t stop them from getting into their car at 3:30 Saturday morning and driving eight hours to get officially hitched in San Francisco on Valentine’s Day. “We had our civil union ceremony already but as soon as we heard this was available, we felt we wanted an upgrade,” said Lacaba, a 36-year-old nonprofit manager from northern San Diego County.
San Francisco’s historic move to marry same-sex couples has prompted thousands of people to respond, not just in the Bay Area but across the state and throughout the country. Gay and lesbian couples from as far as New York, Texas, Florida, Minnesota and Georgia, as well as others from all corners of the state, have heeded Mayor Gavin Newsom’s invitation to marry, even if it meant driving all night or hopping on a plane.
The marriages, which began Thursday, are scheduled to continue today and Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the help of more than 100 volunteers who have pitched in to process the licenses and officiate at the weddings. The ceremonies have taken on a special urgency as the city awaits word on two legal challenges that will be heard on Tuesday.
San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Mabel Teng said the city married about 450 couples on Valentine’s Day, following a total of 680 marriages on Thursday and Friday. The line on Saturday was so formidable, accompanied by daylong traffic congestion and happily honking cars on Van Ness Avenue, that it turned into a take-a-number event that at times resembled a Las Vegas wedding chapel. Overwhelmed workers handed out numbers to 320 couples who couldn’t be accommodated on Saturday, asking them to return today at scheduled times. “This has been a tremendous challenge and a learning process for us/’ Teng said. “We’re at capacity right now. We normally do about 20-30 couples a day. We’re doing about 50-60 an hour.” Teng said that while about 85 percent of the couples were from San Francisco and the Bay Area, about two dozen couples who got married on Friday and Saturday were from out of state. Many others drove up from Southern California.
Bracha Yael, 45, and her partner Davi Cheng, 46, had planned on a quiet Valentine’s Day, cleaning their home in Los Angeles and then stepping out for dinner. But after discussing the developments in San Francisco, the couple, who had considered flying to Massachusetts or Canada to get married, decided to hit the road at 3 a.m. They appreciated the chance to get married relatively close to home. “It feels more powerful that it’s happening in our own state,” said Yael, who has been committed to Cheng for 24 years. “I don’t have to go across the country or to another country to get recognized.” Yael and Cheng, who were married earlier at a gay and lesbian Jewish synagogue in Los Angeles, said they couldn’t pass up the chance to finally get an official marriage license. “We definitely feel it’s historic and we wanted to be part of this,” Yael said. “If the mayor is willing to do this, we can drive up to be part of it.”
Some out-of-town couples hadn’t planned on getting married but happened to be in town –people like Don Sund and Gary Thrift of Minneapolis, who said the stars were aligned right for them this Valentines Day. It was their wedding day — though until Saturday morning they didn’t know it. The couple of 14 years had flown to San Francisco on Friday to join in the annual festivities of the International Bear Rendezvous, an organization of “down-to- earth, regular guy” gay men who perform charitable works and fund- raising. But instead of spending the afternoon drinking beer at the Thirsty Bear with their compadres, Sund and Thrift found themselves standing in a daunting line that wrapped around San Francisco’s ornate City Hall like a wedding ring on a bride’s finger. “When we left on Friday, we knew that getting married was now a possibility in San Francisco,” said Sund, a retired school counselor. “It said so in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.” They woke up Saturday morning, saw that the weddings that had been possible Friday night still were possible, and they dressed for their big day. They pulled on faded blue jeans, grabbed their plaid flannel shirts and got excited at the prospect of fighting for their rights.
Getting married “is an act of civil disobedience,” said Thrift, a continuing education coordinator. “This country was founded on the principles that all people are created equal,” he added. “So anyone should be allowed to marry, gay or straight.”
Like Sund and Thrift, Rob Bauer, 63, and partner Peter Supers, 57, were visiting San Francisco from upstate New York when they realized Saturday morning that the marriages were taking place at City Hall. The couple, already celebrating their 34th anniversary on Valentine’s Day, scrapped their sightseeing plans and decided to take the plunge together. “The fates conspired to get us to San Francisco on Valentine’s Day on our anniversary,” Bauer said. “It was a fait accompli.” Though Bauer, a psychotherapist, and Supers, a teacher, live a short distance from Vermont, they never considered getting a civil union there. They said they were waiting for the real thing. “Civil unions are not the same as marriage,” Bauer said. “It’s separate but not equal. This is what we’ve been waiting for. It’s an acknowledgement of equality.”
Miller, the San Diego County resident, said that even if the licenses are invalidated, the effort won’t be for naught. “We’d be disappointed if this didn’t go forward, but I won’t consider this a loss because of the cumulative momentum that is happening,” said Miller, 52, a health care director. “If it doesn’t happen here and now, it’ll happen in the future.”