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Getting Married in San Fran: A Personal Journey
by Jason Victor Bellecci-Serinus
2004-02-25

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Pictured RIGHT: Jason and David Bellecci-Serinus. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is at left. Photos courtesy Bellecci-Serinus

'Gay Love is Gay Strength.' We stenciled these words on T-shirts and chanted them at rallies in the early days of the Gay Liberation Front. Love, the love that dare speak its name and shout its truth in proud and angry defiance, was the overriding force I felt at those pioneering lesbian/gay marches and actions.

And 34 years later, on Friday the 13th, 2004, I felt it just as strongly as I entered San Francisco City Hall to marry the man I love.

On the day David and I became the Bellecci-Serinus family, the usual divisions of class, sex, sexual orientation, and race seemed to vanish. Blacks, browns, whites, Asians, and people of all sexual persuasions and spiritual traditions volunteered to help same-sex couples unite. Lesbians and gay men hugged each other as straight people handed them forms and flowers. There was only one language spoken besides sign here, pay there, and 'Do you promise?' It was a language of oneness, the expression of a long-held vision fulfilled. It was a language of love.

There are only two other times in my long history with gay liberation (which began when I founded the New Haven GLF in the spring of 1970) that I have felt such incredible unanimity of spirit. One was at a 1970 summer evening's gay dance in New York City's Alternate U. Within minutes of entering the packed space, this middle-class white Jewish boy, now living in the 17th Street gay collective, had joined an exuberant multi-racial kick line of street-walking transvestites. All divisions seemed to vanish as we threw up our heels, singing and shouting our new anthem: Aretha's 'Respect.' The other was at the first Lesbian/Gay March on Washington, D.C., when hundreds of thousands of dykes and fags locked arms and swayed side to side as Holly Near led us in choruses of 'We Are a Gentle, Loving People.'

President's Day weekend was extraordinary. Starting Feb. 12, when pre-Stonewall Daughters of Bilitis founders Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon became the first to wed, thousands of same-sex couples descended upon San Francisco City Hall. The building's entire staff mobilized to unite as many people as possible. By Sunday, 1,600 couples had received marriage certificates. And on Monday, Feb. 16, a holiday on which City Hall was normally closed, doors opened an hour earlier than planned to admit the first group of rain-drenched marriage applicants. The volunteer staff processed an unprecedented 740 couples in seven and a half hours, 100 more than County Assessor Mabel Teng had deemed possible. Not everyone who lined up outside City Hall made it in, but those who had spent the night in the rain or awoke at the crack of dawn to hightail it downtown had the opportunity to say 'I Do.' Even gay Supervisor Tom Ammiano and gay Assemblyman Mark Leno were on hand to serve as witnesses.

David and I discussed getting married on Thursday, shortly after word of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's defiance of California's prohibition of same-sex marriage broke on international news. By Friday morning we were ready. First, we joined Baci Brown of canine renown for our regular run in Oakland's Redwoods. Then, when we heard that the line for marriage certificates was already two hours long, we skipped shaving and breakfast and foreswore clean clothes to drive to San Francisco as fast as we could, naively thinking we could return in time for work.

As we passed through City Hall's metal detectors, everyone was smiling, from uniformed guards to county clerks. The atmosphere was warm and trusting; the long wait in line only deepened the bonds. Women I had never met before let me use their cell phone to call our dear friend Béla Nuss, who left work to witness our wedding.

At one point I ran into Will Roscoe, author of The Zuni Man-Woman and editor of Harry Hay's Radically Gay: Gay Liberation in the Words of Its Founder. When I told Will how I wished that Harry were still alive so that he and John Burnside could have considered being married alongside Phyllis and Del, he responded with tears in his eyes.

'I wish my beloved Bradley was still with us as well so we too could marry.' As the two of us hugged, I realized that the reason I knew so few people in line was that so many of my generation had joined Bradley in death from AIDS.

Hours later, after receiving our license to wed, we were cheered as we headed to the 'altar,' the long steps leading up City Hall's gleaming rotunda. The man who conducted our ceremony, the Mayor's Community Liaison, was a confirmed heterosexual, born in the Castro, who had been deputized especially for the occasion. We laughed as my attempt to recycle Jewish tradition by smashing a plastic Calistoga bottle failed; it took my Catholic husband and removal of the top to achieve the big pop. It felt like one huge family had reunited after a long-enforced separation.

The atmosphere had changed a bit on Monday afternoon when this newlywed returned to help marry others. Processes were far more organized, and some burned-out volunteers and Sheriff's deputies were in super-control mode. The last couples to take their vows had to accept that, with so many people mobbing the building, mothers, sisters and friends who had waited outside hoping to witness their unions could not get in. I soothed a number of temporarily broken-hearted spouses-to-be, helping them reconnect with the love that had brought them there in the first place.

As the number of married couples surpasses 3,000, legal/political events unfold with passion play predictability. (Yahoo.com carries frequent updates, with links to local and national media stories). Recently consolidated lawsuits aimed at halting San Francisco same-sex marriage have been stalled until the end of March. All parties expect that the U.S. Supreme Court will become the ultimate arbiter, with the City of San Francisco arguing that restricting marriage to heterosexuals violates the U.S. Constitution.

George W. Bush is 'troubled' (as if we didn't already know), and Gov. Arnold 'Terminator' Schwarzenegger has ordered California's independent Attorney General Bill Lockyer (who is not bound to follow the Governor's directive) to act against SF's same-sex marriage licenses. Many California Democrats and friends of our community are publicly distancing themselves from Mayor Newsom's bold initiative by endorsing civil unions rather than marriage rights.

Three quotes from the San Francisco Chronicle's Feb. 21 front page say it all: 'San Francisco's actions are directly contrary to state law and present an imminent risk to civil order' — the governor in his letter to the AG; 'Oh, my heart just burst with joy when he handed up those flowers' — Long Beach newlywed. 'Bush slips past Dems' blockade against judge'—Headline on the temporary appointment of Alabama attorney general William H. Pryor Jr. to the all-important 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Pryor has declared Roe vs. Wade 'the worst abomination in the history of constitutional law' and invoked God's will in another legal decision.

What is it all about? I can only speak for myself. When I looked in my beloved's eyes and swore that I would remain faithful to him for the rest of my life, I felt an incredible spiritual affirmation. In that moment, I knew that if anything I had ever done or said in this lifetime held truth for me, this was it.


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