Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Habemus Licentiam

Let’s hear it for Alameda County.

Getting married, it would appear, is not for sissies.  Taku and I decided to tie the knot when it finally became legal again in California.  You may remember we had that right there for a while before some Mormons in Utah and Roman Catholic Archbishop Niederauer in San Francisco got together and organized a misinformation campaign to convince California voters to take that right away.  Too few of the people on the side of marriage rights took these muggers seriously and they actually got Proposition 8 passed, removing our right with an amendment to the state constitution.  Then we had to wait for this mess to go to court. 

You know the story after that.  Another court, and then another court, and finally the Supreme Court decided the folks with the religious reasons for keeping us from getting married did not have the right reasons for us to lose our rights as citizens.

Marriage became legal for same-sex couples in California once more.

So then came all the questions.  Do we really want to do this?  Yes, we decided.  We had already made a life-long commitment to each other and registered as “Domestic Partners.”  Why not go all the way and announce it to the world, get rings, have a party, and start the happily ever after?  As best we could arrange it.

Taku insisted we do the ceremony at San Francisco City Hall.  Why settle for St. Martin the Miserable when you can do it at St. Peter’s was his reasoning.  Never mind that every gay couple west of the Mississippi was thinking along the same lines.  We’ll just hop across the new Bay Bridge we’ve yet to experience and get ourselves officialized.

Not so fast.  You need to go online and register for a wedding date weeks in advance. 

We had decided to wait till Amy got back from Pakistan in October (and then we could do it on my parents’ anniversary) so I paid my fees (up to $75 now) and signed up, date and time.  The marriage license was a separate thing, and I had seen two other couples walk in off the street and get one in five minutes, so I gave that no further thought.

Just to allow plenty of time, though, Taku and I went to City Hall yesterday to pick it up. 

Brick wall. 

I’m sorry, sir, but you need an appointment to get a marriage license.

What?  There is nothing that suggests that on your website.

“The first date we have available is November 11th.”

“November 11th?  We’re getting married on October 11th!”

“I’m sorry sir.  Perhaps you can get a license in another county where they have walk-ins.”

Which county would that be?

All of them.  Only San Francisco requires you wait six weeks to get an appointment to get a marriage license – after which you can marry in a back alley with a Universal Life licensed friend, if you choose.

I see, I said.  The gods are reminding us this is serious business and we are not to take it lightly.

So this morning we drive down to the Alameda County Registrar’s Office in downtown Oakland, where my friends Jerry and Karl got married a couple years ago.   We walk in and are told we need to find a computer and fill out a form.  I tell the guy we already have the form filled in – I got one online, to save some time.  Taku had taken time off work yesterday and was taking more time off work this morning.

Still need to do the form on the computer, he tells us.

We are ushered into the computer room where the three women working there are talking about hamburgers.  One tells the others “I like hamburgers but they don’t like me,” as she ushers us to the computer where we are told to fill in the form.  The MC in my name must be a capital, because the machine is set to do caps only.  And there has to be a space between MC and the second C, because I’m using my passport as identification and that’s the way my name is given on my passport.

We sail right over that hurdle. 

Mother’s full name at birth.  I struggle for a minute.  Do I use the German spelling?  Do I use the name she used all her life, including on her naturalization papers and her passport and her death certificate, Clara Louise?  Or do I use the name I discovered was on her actual birth certificate
which my cousin Daniela dug up last February – Klara Bertha?  I decide to go with the English version – Clara Louise – she never used the Bertha.  I do wonder, though, if our marriage is going to be invalidated if they ever discover that on her original birth records in Celle in 1915 it’s listed as Klara Bertha.  No mention of Louise.  I decide to go with the name she went by and if anybody wants to haul me into court and tear our marriage apart on technical grounds, our twenty years together will probably ride it out.

Next problem is where I am to list the state of her birth.  The form allows only for birth within the United States.  I ask for help.  “Leave it blank,” the hamburger lady tells us.  She and her friends are now onto the topic of pantyhose.

Taku, too, leaves a couple of blanks, since neither his mother nor his father were born in Alaska, Hawaii or the lower 48.

We get the number we are to enter on our application form and take it to the clerk. 

“Sorry,” she says.  “This form is only for the County of San Francisco.”  We have to go back and do another one, this time the County of Alameda application form.  So much for preparing in advance.

Please check the box to indicate whether you are “bride,” “groom,” or “neither.”

I thank the gods and the U.S. Supreme Court for the “neither” box, which we both check.

“This is a copy of your souvenir Marriage Certificate.  You will have to have the person solemnizing the marriage fill it out and then you can frame it and keep it.  The original marriage certificate should be sent to us in the enclosed envelope.”  Here is a booklet for you to keep entitled, “Your Future Together.”

“Your Future Together” is filled with useful information.  In case one of us gets violent, the other is to phone the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.

I’m impressed.  The state is looking out for us and what’s wrong with that?

There is also information about choosing a birth control method, lots of HIV/AIDS information as well as what to do to prevent giving our babies herpes, syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, flu, rubella, chickenpox, whooping cough, cytomegalovirus, listeriosis, toxoplasmosis.  It also tells us:

If you have a cat:

  • Have someone else change the cat litter box daily.
  • Don't feed raw or rare meat to your cat.
If we would like more copies of this booklet, we can get them by calling 510 412-1542.

“Ninety-six dollars please.  Check or debit card.  Credit cards are not accepted.”

I pay by debit card.  The nice lady and the lady in the next cubicle next to her, who is not working with anybody at the moment, stand up and congratulate us. 

San Francisco was not exactly rude, but the cold realization that I did not know to ask the right questions left me with a sense that somebody was throwing tacks in the path to marital bliss.  Alameda County, despite the hamburger/pantyhose distraction, turned out to be a total turn-around.  A clerk with a friendly smile can really make your day.  Two of them can make your whole week.

Wedding ceremony, here we come!

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