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On the Front Lines of LGBT Marriage: California

Phoebe Ann Brown & Christine Rose Allen
Legally Married February 16, 2004
City Hall Rotunda, San Francisco, California
Marriage Nullified August 2004

The Chinese say it is a curse to live in interesting times, and two and a half years ago I may have agreed. However, suddenly in February of 2004, our interesting times became absolutely fascinating...

Ann and I have been lovers, life partners and co-parents for over twenty years. Our five children are now grown, though our youngest daughter and her best friend still live at home with us. We have four grandchildren. We have witnessed our two sons’ weddings, and will be participating in our oldest daughter's wedding this-coming October. However, we, ourselves, are not able to legally marry.

It was difficult, to watch our children marry and know that we could not. In fact, at every wedding we've attended over these many years there has invariably been a moment where we would look at each other and silently share that unhappy realization: that others could share so joyfully in something that was denied to us. That we were always "the audience," the folks whose role it was to share in other people's happiness. We've even attended weddings where the bride and groom wanted us to be present, but were uncomfortable with us dancing together at their reception--perhaps because that could be viewed as too much of a "statement."

We've watched many people younger than ourselves marry. We've watched folks marry who'd been together but a short time compared to our years as a couple. We've watched couples whose weddings we'd attended get divorced; though our own "unmarried" relationship endured.

Ann wanted to get married, to have a ceremony recognizing our relationship, since the first year we lived together. The ritual of us committing ourselves to each other publicly meant a great deal to her. She also wanted the acceptance and social recognition that marriage brings.

Unlike Ann, I wanted little to do with marriage. I had very mixed feelings about the institution as a whole. Many of my feelings stemmed from a feminist perspective; the historical connotations of marriage as a patriarchal institution involving women as male property; the wife forfeiting her property, money and rights to her husband; the woman losing custody and "ownership" of her children; the man as "head of household."

Secondly, there is my own personal history with marriage, many years previous to my relationship with Ann. I am a lesbian woman who married a man at the age of seventeen. The primary driving force behind that marriage was my fear of discovery, my desire to pass and to try to ensure that nobody EVER found out the truth of my lesbianism. I tried to do what my culture was telling me was right, back in 1966. Suffice it to say that my experience with marriage was not a workable or pleasant one for anyone involved.

My third objection to having a ceremony in the previous years was my absolute outrage that, as a couple, we were denied the right to marry legally. In many ways I felt that having a commitment ceremony, for me, would be a sign that I accepted my second-class status; a sign that I accepted being legally denied the option of a true legal marriage. I was very disturbed by the civil rights issue involved: which is that gay men and lesbians should have the same rights under the Constitution as everyone else. They should not have to constantly come up with workarounds that simulate the rights of heterosexual couples under the law, but that in reality are not even close to providing the social support and legal protections that heterosexual couples and their families enjoy. The fact was, I wanted the real deal with all of its legal ramifications. I wanted the whole enchilada, baby!

According to the Federal Government Accounting Office, there are 1,138 federal rights and responsibilities of civil marriage granted in this country to legally married couples that gay and lesbian couples have not been granted under any domestic partnership scenario to date. See this page for a compilation of the rights, or a report from the federal government Accounting Office identifying those sections of law is available online at These rights cover everything from filing taxes jointly, to exemption from the inheritance tax when one's legal spouse dies, to making decisions for an incapacitated partner, to custody issues, to receiving a spouse's retirement benefits, to health care decisions. That doesn't even take into consideration the rights provided by individual states or the benefits like joint gym memberships, family discounts at amusement parks and numerous other goodies not regulated by the government.

Gay and lesbian couples have to pay more money and fill out more paperwork to avail themselves of benefits provided under domestic partner and civil union laws, where those exist. Most states don't have provisions for either domestic partnerships or civil unions. The benefits offered to domestic partners do not even remotely resemble the benefits offered to married couples. Many folks labor under the illusion that domestic partner benefits are similar to the health care benefits that married folks have. They are not. For example, when a gay or lesbian person utilizes domestic partner health care benefits, those benefits are considered "earned income" at the end of the year and they must pay income tax on them.
Nevertheless, ten years ago Ann and I did register with the State of California as Domestic Partners. We did this in order to qualify for domestic partner benefits through our respective places of employment. We actually got excited the day we drove to the state capitol. After all, this was as close to a legal recognition of our union as we believed we would ever get.

Unfortunately, the experience was similar to getting a dog license at a grim and unfriendly animal shelter. No one said “congratulations”, or wished us well, or even smiled at us. We filled out the appropriate papers, the state took our money and that was that. Ann ended up in tears. We took ourselves out to lunch for Mexican food and then went home and called and Emailed our friends and family. It was a paltry substitute for a wedding.

It was then that I began to really feel the full force of how unacceptable this state of affairs was. I love this woman, Ann Brown, with my entire being. I have chosen her to be the most important person in my life. And, yet, not only had her state and country failed her, I'd failed her too, by refusing to do something that she had clearly voiced would mean a great deal to her. That was just plain selfish, regardless of my ideology and political stance.

In September of 1996 the "Trial of the Century" the same-sex marriage trial began in Hawaii. On December 3, 1996 a ruling was handed down in favor of the plaintiffs and the state was ordered to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The next day, December 4, 1996, that injunction was stayed awaiting the expected appeal. In the meantime, the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches joined forces to oppose same-sex marriage in Hawaii - hundreds of volunteers and millions of dollars poured into the state to be used to prevent same-sex marriage. In November of 1999 a constitutional amendment was passed by Hawaiian voters against same-sex marriage. A ruling on that vote was handed down in December of 1999 --also against same-sex marriage.

Ann and I watched all of this in awe that it was even occurring. We LGBT people of our generation had never let ourselves truly believe that we would someday be able to marry legally. Those years were a roller coaster of emotions. After the 1999 ruling we sighed in disappointment, refocused on our own community activism, and let the marriage issue slide back into the recesses of our minds.

This is where the marriage situation stood for us on Valentine's Day weekend 2004. I had a short trip planned for myself over the long holiday weekend, during which I would visit family and friends in the Bay Area, San Jose, Aptos and La Selva Beach. I left home on Thursday morning and planned to return Monday evening. Ann was staying home with the kitties, dogs and teenagers, at our little house in Grass Valley, California --in the Sierra Foothills northeast of Sacramento.

I'd seen the news that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom was issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples, and the photograph of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, women who are the pioneers for my generation, brought tears to my eyes. It is interesting how our minds work, or don't work, as the case may be. I was thrilled at the historic events that were unfolding in San Francisco, and I was following the story of the same-sex marriages in the newspapers enthusiastically, but never once did it cross my mind that Ann and I could ourselves go and get married!

Ann, on the other hand, was totally unaware of what was happening for the first couple of days. On Saturday, Valentine's Day, she was home and received a call from a friend in the Bay Area telling her about the marriages taking place in San Francisco. Ann got very excited and immediately called me long-distance, leaving a message on my cell phone saying, “Let’s meet in Alameda and go to San Francisco and get married!” I called back, and when Ann picked up the phone, the first words out of my mouth were, "Are you serious?" She was. So, I agreed, "Okay, let's do this."

It may sound simple, but the issues involved here were NOT simple to me. First of all, what would being legally married do to our Domestic Partner status? If we married and then the marriages were to be declared illegal, would we be in the position of having our Domestic Partner status revoked? Would our DP status be renewed if the marriages were legally nullified? Does anybody know? Can one, in the eyes of the law be both married and a Domestic Partner? I have no health insurance other than Ann's benefits through her job. Would I be risking losing the only medical insurance I have?

If we got married we would be signing on for what would probably be a prolonged and intense legal battle. At the ages of 54 and 59 Ann and I had weathered many civil rights struggles, but we were older now. I had to really think about whether or not I wanted to take this on. By going through with this I would be fully committed to the outcome of this endeavor. I am not the kind of person who could go get married in San Francisco and then just sit back idly and wait for the results while others do all the work.

And then, there is the reality of legal marriage. We would be signing a legal contract. A legal contract that, once witnessed and signed, then becomes a matter of public record. Our finances, property, insurance, retirement would all now be legally intertwined. These issues warranted taking time to think about, even for a couple who had been together almost nineteen years and who intend to stay together for the rest of their lives. Perhaps especially for a couple whom have had to bind themselves in creative contractual ways, not having had the benefit of legal marriage.

We would be waltzing onto uncharted legal ground. The marriages being licensed and performed in San Francisco were legal in the City and County of San Francisco. They would be legally challenged at the state level in California. They were not federally recognized. And, they weren't recognized by state-to-state reciprocity. In fact, what if they would be challenged between counties within California? What if insurance companies refused to insure spouses because the marriages were not legal according to federal law? My head was spinning all night long contemplating all those questions and uncertainties.
The bottom line for me, though, once I had thought it all through, was that I couldn't NOT do it. It was too historic a moment, it was too important a step for civil rights, and it was the opportunity that we had believed would never happen in our lifetimes.
While I wallowed in legal what ifs and general marriage angst down in La Selva Beach, up in Grass Valley Ann was trying to determine whether the marriages were in fact still happening through Sunday. After several phone calls and some hasty planning, including figuring out whom would take care of our five dogs and two kitties; we managed to meet in the Bay Area on Sunday morning. Ann skipped in glowing, trailed by the two teenagers. Our eldest, daughter Shoshanna, our second daughter, Asia, our daughters-in-law Steph and Maha and our 7 year old granddaughter, Reema, were all there, dressed up, cameras at the ready.

Even though everyone else was dressed up for our marriage, Ann had forgotten to bring my good clothes and shoes from Grass Valley, so she dressed down so I wouldn’t feel badly. Teenagers Kalie and Christina were... well, typical teenagers.
Steph and Asia were hopping up and down; mildly frantic that it was taking us so long to get our act together. They'd been watching the news and were aware of the larger and larger crowd gathering at City Hall in San Francisco. They were concerned about us getting a place in line. Finally they decided to go on over to the City ahead of us to hold a place in line.
Asia and Steph called us when they got to City Hall and broke the disappointing news that no more marriages would take place that day. There were hundreds of couples inside City Hall and city staff had just announced that they just couldn't possibly process any more applications that day. Asia and Steph insisted that we should come over to the City anyway, just to see what was happening, because what was going on was so amazing.

Ann and I were totally bummed out at first. We thought, “Oh my god, we missed this once in a lifetime opportunity!” Please keep in mind that never did we imagine that this would happen in our lifetime, and no one knew from one moment to the next how long the marriages would continue. We'd been on an emotional roller coaster for the past 18 hours, making last minute plans and driving in from out of town. To hear that we couldn't marry that day, after all we'd been through, was momentarily crushing. However, we decided that Asia and Steph were right, that we should go over and at least cheer for and celebrate with the couples who had been able to marry. After all, this was history in the making, in living color! So, we collected Shoshanna, Maha, Kalie, Reema and Christina and took BART over to San Francisco.

When we got to the City, came up to the street and crossed the Civic Center Plaza the atmosphere was electric. There was so much happiness and excitement in the air! The only protesters were a quiet group of Muslims standing across the street from City Hall, who were peacefully standing up for what they believe in. They were NOT being ugly and hate-filled like the people of the extreme Christian religious right tend to be. There were no threats or taunts, no screaming.

A jubilant crowd was gathered around the steps of the Polk Street entrance to City Hall. There was wild cheering for each couple who walked out the doors. Each couple stopped and flashed their marriage certificate. Steph introduced us to an American man who lives in Holland with his Dutch partner. He had just come to California for a visit with his mother and when Mayor Newsom began conducting the gay marriage ceremonies he called his partner in Holland and said, “Get on a flight!” He was standing on the steps of City Hall with his elderly mother waiting for his partner to arrive from the airport. The whole scene was like a spontaneous party and the mood was joyful. There was an immediate shared intimacy in experiencing something so meaningful that we all had hoped for, for so long.

The day was overcast, with a typical pre-rain San Francisco sky. It was chilly and damp, but not cold. The colorful flags flying above Civic Center Plaza lent a note of cheer against the gray sky. There was more traffic than usual for a Sunday afternoon as people drove down Polk Street turned onto Grove Street and circled back up Van Ness Avenue, honking and waving at the newlyweds. Some vehicles pulled over and double-parked to drop couples off who were hoping to get married. There were TV cameras and photographers everywhere and the media representatives kept circling and juggling for the best spots for impromptu interviews and photos.

After we were there for awhile, we discovered that folks were lining up along Polk Street to get married on Monday, the following day. Ann and I talked it over and we decided to go for it! We got in line for the long overnight wait. Do you have any idea how long it had been since Ann and I had waited on line overnight for anything? We heard that there was another line with hundreds of people over on Van Ness Avenue and nobody knew which line would be let into City Hall on Monday.
Finally, after a couple of hours, city staff came out and explained to us how they were going to proceed, and assured us that we were in the right line for Monday. They were very friendly and helpful and made a point of going up and down the line answering questions and reassuring people. They told us that we could not put up tents or make fires and that the Sheriff was encouraging us all to go home for the night where it would be safe and warm. Whenever we would ask, “Well, what will happen if we stay?” the staff would smile and reply; “He is a very nice sheriff.”

Our family eventually left to go home. It was very difficult for them to leave us; they all had wanted so badly to be present when we got married.

On hearing the news of our intention to marry that day, my sister Victoria and her girlfriend Bernadette had cleaned Victoria's house in Fairfax top-to-bottom. They'd gone shopping and were organizing a spur-of-the-moment post-marriage party for us for that evening. Sister Amy was planning to leave work and drive all the way from Santa Cruz north to Fairfax for the party. And, our dogs and kitties were still home alone.

We had to inform everyone of our new plans for the evening. We called Victoria about the party and called my mom to pass the word to Amy. Luckily we were able to reach our neighbor Sam in Grass Valley to ask him to continue to care for our animals. Everyone was supportive and more than cooperative!

At about 1:00 p.m. we settled ourselves in line and began to chat and meet the folks around us. There was an instant camaraderie created by what we were all there for, and by our shared decision to spend the night on the street together. The first woman we met was an attorney who had just flown in from Baltimore with her partner, another lawyer. Ann and Tina had heard the news of what was occurring in San Francisco and had scrambled to line up childcare for their four-year old daughter and to cover their respective cases at work. Relying on frequent flyer miles to make the flight affordable, they booked last minute reservations and flew across the country to get married. Ann staked out a place in our line and Tina was waiting in the Van Ness Avenue line. Once we were given the word that the Polk Street line would be the one for Monday, Tina came and joined us.

Charli and Tina from Oakland, the younger couple behind us, could not stay and spend the night. They had previous plans and reservations for the evening and one of the women had a health condition that made it unwise for her to spend the night on her feet or sitting on cold concrete. We offered to hold their place in line and they promised to return early in the morning with coffee. It had begun to sprinkle and before they left, Charli gave me her umbrella. Their place was quickly filled by two other women, Micki and Debrah from Berkeley. Micki and Debrah were closer to our age and had four grown children themselves. Debrah is a retired marine biologist and Micki is a biology teacher at Cal State Hayward. Behind the biologists were three younger male couples who had just flown in from San Diego. In front of Ann and Tina were two State Park employees, Karen and Diane. The youngsters of our little crowd-within-a-crowd were Alicia and Melissa, a delightful couple from Concord, CA. People were there from all over California. Also in the line were couples from New York, Tennessee, Nevada, Texas, Maryland, Georgia and Florida. People in line with us had come from as far away as Thailand and New Zealand.

Early in the evening our dear friends Debra and Sherry from Alameda made the trek across the Bay to deliver a double lawn chair, a beach umbrella, chocolate, sandwiches, water, a sleeping bag and rain ponchos. We had arrived in the City totally unprepared for what we were now doing, and the weather report was getting worse by the minute. Later on, Maha and Asia came back to San Francisco with my medication. Asia loaned us her socks from Ireland so that our feet would stay warm. Shoshanna and Maha had given us money. My cell phone was ringing nonstop with family and friends checking in. Kalie and Christina came over twice to check on us. They wandered the line and visited with us and our new MB’s (Marriage Buddies). Our friend Debra returned about 11:00 p.m. that night with a home-cooked brisket that Sherry had baked and hot mashed potatoes, paper plates and plastic forks. We shared the hot food with as many folks around us as we could. Those meat and potatoes went fast; melted in our mouths...

As night fell the weather got colder. First it began to pour, then the wind off the ocean picked up. Weather-wise it was a very rough night. The beach umbrella blew apart within the first hour. I could not get the umbrella that Charli had given to me to open. Baltimore Ann gave me another umbrella. Someone from the community went to an all-night Walgreen's and bought boxes of those large, plastic lawn trash bags and passed them out. We tried to cover up with them, but the wind kept blowing them away. Some folks bought tarps and tied them to mailboxes or newspaper stands or whatever was available that wasn't blowing away. Micki and Debrah behind us huddled with a sleeping bag across their laps and a rubber air mattress that they'd had in the car over their heads. At one point Melissa, in front of us, went to her van and got out her dog carrier, set it up, covered it with plastic and crawled inside of it. Anything to hold her place in line and to have some protection from the weather! Baltimore Ann and Tina rented a hotel room a few blocks away and took turns grabbing some warmth and sleep. Ann and Tina also bought some extra gloves and distributed them. My Ann was able to go to their hotel room for awhile. She dried her shoes and clothes with a hair dryer and caught a few hours of sleep. Her feet had gotten so wet that her toes actually wore holes through her socks! The young men from San Diego set their lawn chairs up in a small circle and perched umbrellas over each chair. It was comforting to hear them laughing and sharing stories. It was like being at camp, "Marriage Camp, San Francisco!" As the weather worsened one by one some folks left the line and headed for shelter in cars or wherever they could find it. Those of us who stayed offered to save their spaces. At one point I was saving places for four other couples.

Even though we were temporarily losing folks to the weather, couple by couple the line continued to grow throughout the night. Down the street, around the block. Between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. we grew pretty quiet. It was so cold and so wet and windy and we were all so tired, we had to hunker down and conserve our energy. Many of us aren’t spring chickens any more. The storm and long hours were hard on the bones of many of us older folks.

The truly incredible thing about our experience was that beginning late Sunday afternoon and continuing all night long, people, gay and straight, streamed by giving us their love and support. Folks came by throughout the entire night with coffee, tea, bottled water, donuts, flowers, candy, and fruit trying to make us more comfortable. San Francisco's famous Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence came through, dressed to the nines in full costume, passing out blessings and homemade cookies. A heterosexual couple with their children served us hot tea at 1:00 in the morning. At 2:00 a.m. a man drove up, stopped his car, opened his trunk and began handing out boxes of hot pizza. Two young men came by wheeling an office chair with a picnic cooler perched on the seat. The cooler was filled with hot chocolate and they offered us each a cup, with or without Bailey's Irish Cream.

Many of the folks who came by were other LGBT couples who’d gotten married before us - they were very encouraging, urging us to hang on. People drove by honking and waving and calling out their support and congratulations. Towards morning the garbage collectors drove through on their way to work and honked and waved. On this night the people of San Francisco truly outdid themselves. It was the most amazing mass outpouring of love and goodwill that I have ever experienced.

As dawn broke the line slowly awakened. I got up to stretch and nearly fell over. My feet were so numb from the cold and wet that I couldn't feel exactly where they were and when I'd try to walk I would stumble. As it became light enough to see I staggered around trying to pick up empty water bottles and coffee cups and trash bags that had blown loose in the wind. A young man and woman came walking down the line carrying cardboard trays with cups of hot coffee from a nearby Starbucks. A young woman who was passing out dry socks and sweatshirts shortly followed them. She seemed like a saint to us. We were a motley-looking and bedraggled crew by this point. Television vans began driving in and jockeying for position in a lot across the street. It was odd to spend our waking up time watching the TV antennas rise into the air.
As we shivered and sipped coffee some guy came running down the street all alone yelling misquotes from Christian Scripture at us. He ran up and down the block a couple of times and at Baltimore Ann and Tina’s lead we all spontaneously broke into several enthusiastic choruses of “We’re Goin’ to The Chapel”.

While we were praying for City Hall to open early, cold and still bleary-eyed, we got a call on the cell phone saying that two more Alameda friends, Mickey and Sallyanne, were around the block in line with two of their four children! Shortly afterward Mick and Sallyanne came ‘round for a visit and hugs. People were beginning to really wake up now and the line was growing as the morning contingent of hopeful partners swelled our ranks. One could feel the anticipation and excitement begin to build as we recuperated from our wet and windy night and as new folks joined us. We Marriage Buddies began to realize that this was really going to happen, that our long night was really at an end. We dug through wet pockets for pens and scraps of paper and exchanged addresses and phone numbers and "Good Luck" hugs and kisses.

The city staff and volunteers had come to work early that morning because they were so concerned about those of us who had been in the rain all night. They were booting up their computers and moving as fast as they possibly could to get us inside out of the cold. We entered City Hall a little before 10:00 a.m. on Monday morning, after 21 hours in the line outside. Asia and Reema showed up just as we were walking in the door. We were SO glad to see them! And, then about a half an hour later here came the teenagers, Christina and Kalie. When we asked them how they managed to get in, the girls just grinned and replied, "We told them, we had to find our moms and we walked right in!"

The city staff and community volunteers did an incredible job of taking thousands of people and creating an organized process out of it all. The city staff worked long, overtime hours and all President's Day/Valentine's Day weekend without pay. They weren't even getting comp time for this - they just wanted to be a part of it. They gave up their long weekend and holiday to do this for those of us who had heretofore, and since, been denied the right to marry. I have never seen so many people working so hard to give a good experience to others.

Inside City Hall more volunteers brought us water, coffee, donuts and orange juice as we slowly made our way. We were so cold, tired and shaky. They showed us to the bathrooms and got chairs for older folks and disabled people. They welcomed our children and grandchildren and helped families to stay together. If we were nervous they hugged us and told us to “just keep breathing”. They volunteered as witnesses for the couples who didn’t have their own.

Some folks had clothes they'd had in cars or suitcases all night to change into. Others were from San Francisco and had friends bringing them their wedding outfits. People were rushing in and out of the bathrooms changing clothes. We saw suits and leather and beaded gowns and tuxes and all lengths and colors of veils. A wedding fashion show supreme! And, then there were those of us who got married in our soaking wet flannels and jeans and sweats. Squishing across the marble floors in our wet shoes...

Volunteers escorted us from point to point, guiding us through the process. We wound down and around and up and around, filed our applications, paid the fees, had our IDs checked, got the license typed up, then moved on to the gorgeous, domed City Hall Rotunda for the actual ceremonies. All of a sudden everything began to move very fast. There were about ten weddings going on at the same time in the Rotunda and although it was noisy, the Rotunda is a huge room and the judges and deputies and clergy who were officiating did their very best to make each couple feel that their ceremony was individual and personal. Flashbulbs were going off all over the place. It was a wedding photographer’s dream, a veritable Cirque du Soleil of weddings!

The vows we all were married by were short, pleasant and scripted. They included, "With this ring I thee wed..." Well, Ann had her diamond ring and an antique gold wedding band that I gave her many years ago, but my band stopped fitting properly years ago and I did not have a ring. We asked to change the wording and Ann chose, "With this heart..." The deputy judge who was marrying us, Jo Ann Hoenning, kept stumbling over the "ring" and "heart" and I couldn't help but giggle.
After waiting for so long, the ceremonies themselves were very brief and it seemed but a moment before the culminating events were over. After the actual weddings, we all went over to the Recorder’s office to get our marriages registered and to get our own copies of the licenses/certificates. The Recorder's Office was like a zoo, albeit a happy one. Dozens upon dozens of newlyweds milled around. While we were there Mable Teng, the SF Assessor/Recorder gave a little talk and thanked us for filling City Hall with our love. She asked us to pass on encouragement when we left to the folks standing outside in the rain. Ms. Teng is a classy lady and she emphasized how hard the City Hall staff and volunteers were working; though that was very clear to all of us.

Then it was out the doors and onto the City Hall steps. We flashed our license/certificate to the crowd of well-wishers cheering from the sidewalk and street. What a rush... A funny aside is that as we walked out the doors, our teenagers Kalie and Christina were just ahead of us and the crowd assumed that THEY were a couple and cheered wildly. The girls loved it and waved and smiled as if they were visiting royalty. We marched down the block and it was our turn to call out our encouragement and congratulations to those standing in line. We got to the car and all piled in and then drove the entire block around City Hall waving our certificate and honking. The whole block, packed with people waiting to get in, cheered.
Off we went to the big family home in Alameda. Maha had the kitchen table decorated with beautiful calla lilies. She had fresh bagels and hot tea waiting for us. We changed into dry clothes and had a little break. Then we all piled back into our cars and went up to Fairfax. Victoria and her girlfriend Bernadette finally got to give us our party. They had prepared a buffet, which we enjoyed by candlelight. Victoria's partner Bernadette took tons of pictures with her brand new camera and she and Vic served us food and sparkling cider in front of the fire and then we all had Valentine’s cake. They gave us the most luscious long-stemmed red roses! It was the perfect way to end the day, adding an individual touch of beauty and intimacy that had been missing from the mass crowd scene at City Hall. We ate and laughed and talked with our family. As the day edged into evening we once again climbed into the car and we finally got home to Grass Valley about 8:30 p.m. Monday night. We were greeted by our wiggling, wagging furry four-leggeds, the creatures that greet us as if we'd just gotten married every day of our lives. After cups of tea and goodnight kisses to all we finally retired for our first sleep in about forty hours. I was never so glad to fall into our clean, warm bed!

I spent Tuesday, February 17th calling insurance companies etc. to inform them of our new marital status and it was nice to receive the appropriate congratulations with no weirdness at all. We also discovered that our friends from Grass Valley, Rick and Steve, were a half-day in line behind us on Monday and had also gotten married! Tuesday evening Ann and I gave an interview to our local newspaper, The Union.

I looked at our marriage certificate several times a day for weeks, and Ann kept referring to me by all sorts of mushy nicknames, all of which referred to the fact that we were now married. Once the article appeared in our local paper we received many calls and emails from local gay and lesbian couples asking for information on how to get married. We closely followed the legal battle in California regarding Mayor Gavin Newsom's issuing of our marriage licenses. The radio, TV and computer in our home were on at all times as we followed the challenges to our marriage. We cheered for the couples marrying in New York and Oregon, states that had quickly jumped on the wedding bandwagon. On Sunday, February 22, 2004 San Francisco's Mayor Gavin Newsom appeared on CNN’s “Late Edition”. He defended his decision against critics, saying he had an obligation to fairness. “It’s about human beings,” he said. “It’s about human dignity. It’s about advancing and affirming marriage in a unique bond and relationship. It’s about, I think, holding truth, faith and allegiance to the constitution.”

On March 11, 2004 the California Supreme Court ordered an immediate halt to the same-sex weddings in San Francisco. The stay was issued pending a hearing and ruling by the California Supreme Court as to whether or not Mayor Gavin Newsom had the authority to issue our marriage licenses.

On May 17, 2004 it became legal in the state of Massachusetts for same-sex couples to wed. That decision is being challenged and could go before the people of Massachusetts for a vote as early as November 2006.

On August 12, 2004 our over 4,161 marriages were nullified. The marriages sanctioned in San Francisco February 12 --March 12, 2004 were voided when the California Supreme Court ruled that Mayor Gavin Newsom overstepped his authority by issuing licenses to same-sex couples.

We grieved. We raged. We assured one another than nobody could take away our "real" marriages, that we felt just as married as ever. And, we became marriage equality activists, by the thousands.

In February of 2005 I became the leader of the Nevada County Chapter of Marriage Equality California. We spent the next eight months working nonstop with Equality California to pass marriage equality legislation in California.

On June 28, 2005 Canada legalized same-sex marriage. “(This) is about the Charter of Rights,” Prime Minister Paul Martin said. “We are a nation of minorities. And in a nation of minorities, it is important that you don’t cherry-pick rights. A right is a right and that is what this vote tonight is all about.”

Spain legalized same-sex marriage on July 3, 2005 by statute.

On September 1, 2005 the California Senate passed AB 849, marriage equality legislation authored by Assemblyman Mark Leno. On September 6, 2005 AB 849 was passed by the California Senate, making the California legislature the first state legislature in the Union to pass marriage equality legislation in both houses! We celebrated elatedly! On September 29, 2005 Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger chose to veto that historic civil rights legislation.

On December 1, 2005 a court decision in South Africa legalized same-sex marriages. That decision will not go into effect for twelve months to allow time for legislative action.

Ann and I continue to experience the negative effects of our inability to be legally married. Last year Kalie was hospitalized. Although she was Ann's dependent and Ann's insurance was paying for the hospitalization; although she had Ann and I listed on all the hospital forms as her parents and emergency contacts; although they had Kalie's permission to talk to Ann, the hospital staff and doctors refused to speak with Ann about Kalie's condition and treatment. They maintained that Ann is a legal stranger to Kalie and that they would be breaking confidentiality laws by including her.

This past February Ann had a heart attack. When she was being transferred from our small local hospital to a Cardiac unit in Sacramento I was told to follow the ambulance. However, because we are not married, I had to first drive home, locate our California Domestic Partner Registration and our Medical Powers of Attorney, make copies of all that paperwork and then drive to where they’d transferred Ann. I had to be able to prove who I was to her so that the doctors would talk to me and so that I could be have access to her. When I arrived Ann had already been taken into surgery. When she finally awoke much later that night the first thing she said to me was, “Where were you? I was alone. I was so afraid and I didn’t know where you were.” Had we been married, I would have been there, holding her hand and reassuring her, as she went into surgery - she would have known I was there and waiting for her. That is how it should be.

Here in Nevada County we marriage equality supporters are now organized as a chapter of Marriage Equality USA-California. We are continuing to work at the local, state and national levels for the right of same-gender couples to enter into full, legal, civil marriage. Ann and I truly believe that marriage equality is a given --it will happen in our lifetimes, it is but a matter of when. For now, we continue to work with our LGBT and non-gay allies, talking to everyone we know, having those conversations, "changing hearts and minds." We all deserve equal access under the law and it is incumbent upon all of us to work towards that goal.

"This civil rights struggle will be the most romantic in history... we stand to breathe new life and vitality into that civil institution that is regarded so casually by those who can afford to take this right for granted.”
~ Molly McKay, Media Director, Marriage Equality USA

Not “The End”, just Another Beginning...

Current same-sex marriage status:

Legalized in the Netherlands in 2001, in Belgium in 2003, in Canada in 2005, in Spain in 2005, and in South Africa in 2005 (South African ruling not in effect until December 2006).

In the United States, Massachusetts is the only state where same-sex marriage is legal. However, same-sex married couples in Massachusetts still cannot access any federal rights related to marriage and their marriages are not legally recognized in any other state in the Union. California, Connecticut, Washington DC, Hawaii, Maine, Vermont and New Jersey are the only states that provide partial state benefits and protections to same-sex couples via Domestic Partnerships, Civil Unions or reciprocal beneficiary laws.


Get involved with your National and State equality organizations:

The Human Rights Campaign

HRC State Listings:

This story is dedicated to the woman I have chosen to spend my life with, Phoebe Ann Brown. Thank you for your love, my dearest Sweetheart. I am so blessed to be able to share my heart and home with you.

And, to our family, thank you each and every one for your ongoing love and support. You all make everything possible and always keep it interesting!

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