Friday, June 20, 2008

A Wedding in Berkeley

For a very long time, gay friends of mine and I were obsessively preoccupied with debate over “the M-word.”

Pro-marriage equality gay folk argue the right to marry is a civil one, and the state has extended to clergy the right to perform this state function only to have many of them insist they alone should determine who gets to marry – ignoring the rich history of church and state separation in the United States.

Anti-marriage equality gay folk argue that if we fight this battle too hard we will lose the war. Better, they say, to hold out for the benefits that come with non-marriage contracts in Domestic Partnerships and Civil Unions, and not piss off the “Traditional Family” (good Lord, what a misnomer) folk who, to show their pique at having us knock at the door of “traditional marriage,” would bring in millions of dollars to support efforts to pull back those rights so painfully accrued over the past couple decades.

The AME Camp include people like the very articulate Leland Traiman, as well as our best spokesman in Congress, Barney Frank.

I too was in their camp (sort of) right up to the time I went to the California Supreme Court hearing and was persuaded by the brilliance of the lawyers arguing in favor of marriage equality. And by the impression created by several justices themselves. Their pointed questions suggested they understood that justice went beyond the law and that the time had come to give homophobia a legal kick in the teeth. And, as I have written before, my years of teaching Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail in ethics and liberation theory seminars, has left the phrase “justice too long delayed is justice denied” ringing in my ears.

So the head came round. Enough, I thought. It’s time we joined the other nations of the world who have led the way – Holland, Belgium, Canada, Spain, South Africa (and, just this week, Norway) – and who have gone beyond the considerably more numerous countries which, like France and its PACS (domestic partnerships), extend full marriage rights to gays and lesbians under a much drier name.

And then, in the days since May 27, the heart has followed.

On May 27, Karl writes:
And to fill you in on the local scene. Sylvia Shapiro is coming up from Mexico to wed Person A to Person B on or soon after June 17. We are currently thinking of a "small" ceremony at home with a celebratory event later at an outdoor location….

Person B
To fast forward, that small ceremony is now taking place this evening, June 20, and about 40 or 45 people are expected to show up. They tried to keep it small, but couldn’t. One by one people insisted, especially a whole bunch of neighbors, and how do you say no to people who want to witness this moment?

I suspect the “celebratory event” to come will be huge. So many people want in.

Somebody from the Contra Costa Times calls. He wants to do an article.

Jerry calls, “We need your advice on the cake.” So several of us neighbors go over for dinner and a cake tasting. We decide the cakemaker does lemon best, so lemon it is.

I suddenly realize I want to do the flowers. That offer, too, grows like topsy, and next thing we know we’re making multiple visits to the Oakland Flower Market to select the flowers. We all go on Tuesday to look at the choices, I go on Thursday to make the final purchase, and Taku comes home early to do the arrangements. Both of us are ridden with anxiety. Can we do the job right?

On Tuesday, Taku takes the day off and we go with Jerry and Karl to the Alameda Country Clerk-Registrar’s Office to get the licence. Karl (Person A, this time) goes first on the computer – (“There’s no way to enter Germany as my father’s birthplace!”), then Jerry (“No Jerry, your mother’s maiden name – Bongiovanni!”), the clerk is all smiles, and $84 dollars later there is a marriage licence in their hands. Off for Dim Sum.

While we are waiting, this guy comes up to me and asks if I will witness his friends’ wedding, and we get to know two young guys beaming from ear to ear. The friend had come without a picture ID. In the end, the happy bureaucrats decided what the hell, and he got to be their witness after all. Not that I wouldn’t have loved to stand in.

All the while this sense of something terribly exciting is bubbling up inside me, and I find myself wanting to bawl. What is it about weddings? In Europe, ironically, people are falling away in droves from the institution. Here, gays are fighting to get in against people who fear it will somehow make us more like Europe.

It goes on and on. One of the neighbors calls. She needs a picture of Jerry and Karl. I provide one. Another neighbor, turns out, is a professional director of photography and when Jerry and Karl ask him if he would video the event, he launches in with lights and plans the rehearsal. Everybody goes back to scratch. The ceremony should be in front of the fireplace, not the window (passing cars – no good), there should be a cloth on the mantel to break up the single white line, the judge should stand here, not there. This is going to be a class event.

Henry wants to donate his professional services. Jerry insists they at least provide gardening at the matching professional rate, and Henry agrees.

Linda calls from Portland. “I want to do the flowers!” “Too late, I got there first,” I tell her. “OK, then, three cases of champagne.” Jerry talks her down to two.

Amy changes her flight back from LA so she can arrive, golden slippers and all, on time.

Sylvia’s father sends over two carved figures of Confucius types. They will replace the two guys in tuxes they were going to put on the cake. Might as well use venerability along with something borrowed, something blue (we got plenty of old) and something new.

Pants to the tailors for hemming. New shirts and ties. Right down to the socks, in fact.

Bring it on.

Just a few more hours.

My heart’s doing a drum roll.

1 comment:

Savitri said...

A wonderful report. I hope you are all celebrating in style right now.

I have to say I did wonder who was getting married when I saw the title for this entry.

See you on the 4th, love, Pat