as a Human Rite
This article also appears on the following other websites:
FRANCISCO, February 16, 2004--Regardless of their legal outcome,
the same sex marriage ceremonies that took place in San Francisco
City Hall over Valentine's weekend are sure to become a major milestone
in gay history, along with the 1969 Stonewall riots and the assassination
of Harvey Milk in 1978.
Lines around San Francisco City Hall: San Francisco Chronicle,
February 15, 2004
But the first same sex marriages in the United States are also an
important moment in the larger American story, part of the drive
toward fulfilling the promise of the nation to hold to the truth
that all people are created equal. The Valentine's weekend weddings
are akin to the moment that Rosa Parks refused to move to the back
of the bus. For the first time, gays and lesbians simply claimed
their rights to marriage (with the aid of San Francisco Mayor Gavin
Newsom), instead of merely protesting for them, as they had done
best argument for same sex marriage is not about equal rights, however,
though those claims have been well made and are eminently sound.
The best case for gay marriage was visible in the faces of some
2,000 couples getting married in the San Francisco City Hall rotunda
over the long Valentine's Day weekend.
Photo: New York Times, February 14, 2004
From the lens of the outside world, these events may have looked
at first like political statements taking place. But, for the couples
getting married in these ceremonies, and to the friends and families
gathered there with them, the marriage ceremonies were deeply personal
testaments of their love and devotion. To paraphrase what Martin
Luther King, Jr. said about interracial marriage, homosexuals don't
get married, people get married.
California Assembly Member Mark Leno performs marriage ceremony
Photo: Associated Press
In nearly every alcove around the huge City Hall rotunda over the
weekend, a marriage was taking place; in the larger balcony areas,
sometimes two or three. Some were officiated by clergy, others by
city officials and prominent gay (and straight) politicians. Circling
the rotunda, one could attend ceremony after ceremony, each profoundly
personal and private, though infused with an awareness of the larger
political and social significance of what was occurring.
Among the participants, there was a palpable sense of awe, not just
at history being made but of dreams coming true. Many of those involved
in the ceremonies would not have dared to dream that such an event
could be possible in their lifetimes. The first marriage to take
place was between lesbian activists Phyllis Lyon, 79, and Del Martin,
83, who have been together for 51 years.
Photo by Derek Powazek (To see photo essay by Derek Powazek, click
Until now, gay marriage was just a political idea to most people
in this country. The San Francisco ceremonies put a human face--a
few thousand faces--on that idea for the first time; much like what
Rock Hudson or Magic Johnson announcing they had AIDS did for that
epidemic. The couples getting married demonstrated that gay marriage
is not fundamentally about sex, but about love, and that by getting
married gays are not threatening the institution of marriage, but
rather are celebrating it and enlarging its reach.
by Derek Powazek (To see photo essay by Derek Powazek, click on
The political meaning of the events of the Valentine's weekend marriages
was trumped by their personal significance. The lines to enter City
Hall may have resembled a march, but those who emerged afterward
did so two by two.
Poster by Derek Powazek
To purchase a print of this poster--proceeds
on the image.