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February 17, 2004

California Needs Gay Marriage--Now

Yesterday, my partner and I tried to get married in San Francisco. We naively assumed that if we showed up at 3 p.m., we'd stand in line for a little while and be married by 4 p.m. at the very latest.

We quickly discovered that hundreds of people were lined up to marry, including many who had been waiting since the previous day, some with small children. The few exceptions included a couple where one partner who had given birth hours earlier, stumbled into City Hall on the arms of her partner, then after the ceremony headed back to the hospital for postpartum care. Other people told us they had flown in from Minneapolis, New York, Washington State, and other places throughout the country. They were determined to wed, and Mayor Gavin Newsom had made this possible.

We stood in the rain with many other people, watching couples bound down the steps of City Hall. Sandy and I misted up. It was so moving, so beautiful--a truly spiritual experience.

Then a man next to us chatted about his experience as a volunteer that day.

"Volunteer?" I asked, and something in my left cranial lobe began whirring.

"Oh yes, the mayor deputized many people, who are working for free."

I felt my brain shift into fourth gear, and a vein in my forehead began pulsing.

"How many people have been married so far?"

This was the kind of question that immediately stimulated everyone within ten feet to demonstrate his or her mathematical prowess by sheer guesswork. "Sixteen hundred!" "Five Thousand!" "Four hundred today!" "No, seven hundred!"

"That's o.k.," I said, "good enough." I felt my eyes stinging with hot tears. Not over the lost chance to marry--we were both overcoming bad colds, and waiting overnight was impossible; this made us sad, but it didn't make me cry. No, I wasn't crying over the major strike for equality this event represented--although we were in the middle of a historical moment. I wasn't even crying out of gratitude for Mayor Gavin Newsom, whose leadership on this issue is nothing short of brave and brilliant.

Instead, I felt myself weep over the three little words I, as an administrator, so love to hear:

"Local revenue stream."

My heart thumping, I began doing the math. It's only about $100 for a marriage license (good grief--no wonder people do this so casually--it costs more to register a car or a boat). But City Hall was cranking out over 100 marriages an hour, and though some staffing was required, they did deputize a lot of volunteers. Even at a conservative estimate of 2,000 marriages as of Monday night, that's a gross of $200,000. After factoring in additional staff time and security requirements, plus the overhead of the requirements for the physical plant, City Hall would be lucky to break even on this special event. But that doesn't include the additional tourism revenue, and I already read about the couple staying at the Fairmont all weekend.

Let's assume gay marriage isn't stopped in San Francisco. Presumably the marriage registrar's office could handle the increased volume during regular office hours with, with additional staffing. Increase the license volume by 500-1000 licenses a week--and I don't think that's unrealistic, given the number of gay people in the United States--which could be as high as 29 million (ten percent of the total U.S. population). Even if it's one percent of the population, and only one percent of that group comes to San Francisco over a period of a decade, that's a lot of licenses, again, and that's even before we get to rooms at the Fairmont or tables for ten at the Washbag.

Now I really admire Gavin Newsom. The Mayor is not only brave and righteous--he's downright entrepreneurial!

Gay marriage is a tough question for many, and even I, out of empathy and compassion, believe we can't turn our backs on those who "aren't there yet" on this issue. Still, we in California need to come up with new and better ways to make ends meet. Every city in California is suffering badly right now. Every school, library, and fire station is scrambling to find ways to meet ends meet, and I don't know of a single county in our state that is anticipating better times to come just yet.

This is an issue whose time has not only come, but whose arrival is in strictly pecuniary terms, highly timely. Any county or city government on the fence on this issue needs to factor in the revenue and ask if continued discrimination against marital rights for same-sex couples is worth the loss in revenues this opportunity presents.

Oakland, Richmond, Berkeley, San Rafael; Los Angeles, Mendocino, Eureka; every corner of this state needs to look at its checkbook and then ask itself, can it afford not to join Mayor Newsom in granting same-sex couples the right to wed?

Posted by kgs at February 17, 2004 03:23 AM

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Every party has a pooper--that's why we invited you.

Posted by: K.G. Schneider at February 17, 2004 09:32 AM

Thank you for sharing your thoughts & experience! I hope you and your partner will be able to get a marriage license soon.

I believe that it is time for gay couples to be given marriage licenses simply on a consitutional basis. We deserve fair and equal treatment under the law, and the current setup is not giving us that. It's about time somebody with authority stood up and gave us the rights we deserve! Remember, it's "all men are created equal" not "all heterosexual people are created equal".

Jack, what part of "all" don't you understand?

Posted by: Anna at February 17, 2004 09:51 AM

It's not ignoring; it's challenging. This republic was founded by people who chose to challenge the laws and governments they lived under, wasn't it? Hasn't much progress under this republic been due to the willingness of people and organizations to purposely challenge unjust laws?

Posted by: David Dodd at February 17, 2004 12:52 PM

I think you are confusing civil and criminal law, here. No?

Posted by: David Dodd at February 17, 2004 03:09 PM

It was unlawful for Rosa Parks to refuse to give up her seat, but that didn't make it wrong.

Posted by: K.G. Schneider at February 17, 2004 03:15 PM

Exactly! Sometimes it's right to be unlawful. If that weren't the case, we wouldn't even have a republic. Right? (I guess I should give up trying to reason with Mr. Stephens...oh well.)

Posted by: David Dodd at February 17, 2004 03:21 PM

Seems to me what the mayor is doing is a classic case of civil disobedience, challenging what he sees as an unjust law. This country has a very long tradition of civil disobedience, so what is happening seems very American and democratic!

Posted by: Jeanne Fondrie at February 19, 2004 07:33 PM

I wouldn't approve of a mayor granting gun licenses without a waiting period, but if he is acting in civil disobedience then my approval isn't the point really. The issue here is that we are standing with Newsom because we think he is right. There is legality and morality -- sometimes when the two are in conflict taking a stand is necessary.

Posted by: hope at February 20, 2004 11:55 AM

http://sleeping.home.mchsi.com/SFO_essay.html I was a volunteer there this week, and this is a *very* rough draft about my experince there, if anyone cares to read it.

Posted by: Brendan Callahan at February 22, 2004 03:40 AM

Debbie Marks,SanAntonio TX

I, Don't think people understand the seriousness of this matter

We as of today do not know what causes people to be gay ...If its a problem
in the brain or just plain being a rebel ..maybe it's not a problem at all
. ...Until we find out what causes gayness "we don't need to legalize it"

Posted by: Debbie at February 22, 2004 11:19 AM


We also don't know what causes heterosexuality and yet it is "legal." Nature is full of examples of homosexual and hetersexual partnerships. Human beings are just one of hundreds of species that includes same sex partners as well as opposite sex partners. You might want to read up on the American Psychological Association's STatement on Lesbian and Gay Issues at http://www.apa.org/pi/statemen.html.

Allowing gays to marriage isn't legalizing "gayness." Believe it or not, its already legal in the sense that no one can throw me in jail because I'm a lesbian. Some of the more backward states in the union seem to think it is okay to throw people in jail if they catch them engaging in oral sex or other varieties of sexual activity commonly referred to as sodomy but sodomy doesn't equal gay - you might be as illegal as me! It depends on your sexual activities and I don't really want to know anything about it--it's not my business.

Gay marriage is about recognizing that two people have created primary commitments -- emotional and financial -- to one another and that commitment should be acknowledged. Why should it matter if the commitment is between two women or a man and woman? Any partner deserve to be present at their partner's bedside when they are ill, deserves to get the house they have shared for 20 years when one partner dies, deserves to keep the children they've raised together, deserves to get their partners pension instead of having it go back to the state, etc.

It's an equal rights issue. It has nothing to do with whether "gayness" is legal.

Posted by: Lori Ayre at February 23, 2004 11:29 AM

Well said, Lori!

Posted by: David Dodd at February 23, 2004 03:29 PM

has anyone considered the political side of this?

At the risk of being another party pooper, politicians do not jump on something out of any sense of social or historical responsibility, but for political expedience.

I'm not a SFer, but this looks to me like a quick and easy way to pick up a block of voters (what's percentage of gays in SF?), if Newsom is looking to shore up political support.

Posted by: Carol at February 23, 2004 03:38 PM

First, politicians are often driven by both motivations: responsibility and expedience. I don't consider that a bad thing. Why shouldn't they care about whether they are representing their constituencies? That's part of democracy! As for this being "quick and easy," apparently you've missed the attacks from the governor and the president.

Posted by: K.G. Schneider at February 23, 2004 04:00 PM

Good for you for trying Karen! If Arnie and W do manage to shut down this marvelous exercise in civic civil disobedience remember you can always come to Canada where, after the initial rush, you can get married. Period. No hassles. We'd be glad to have you.

It is an equal rights issue plain and simple: either you are equal before the law or you are not. Newsom is smart enough to realize that taking a stand in favour of equality is both principled and good politics.

Posted by: Jay Currie at February 24, 2004 09:59 AM

Jay, Jack's comments are out of line (as well as incorrect, since Canada is part of the Americas!). Jack, if you want to continue posting to this site, you need to apologize for your comment to Jay. Otherwise, Jack, you are voted off this island indefinitely.

Posted by: K.G. Schneider at February 24, 2004 11:49 AM

Just a couple of things: Jack, rude as your remarks are, I'd be happy to discuss your position over at my blog www.jaycurrie.com. Equality before the law is not a California concept or an American concept; it is one of the great gifts of the Enlightenment to the West and, as such, is part of our shared heritage.

Karen, you may very well have your reasons for banning Jack. Fair enough. But please don't do it on my account. I take my free speech seriously and, unless someone actually gets around to calling someone else names, I am inclined to let'em post. At the same time, its your blog and you have every right to run it your way.

Posted by: Jay Currie at February 25, 2004 11:36 AM