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[whitespace] Happily Ever After?

Gays discover what Bush America thinks of them outside SF City Hall

By Vrinda Normand

CAROLE and Jamey Moore emerge beaming from San Francisco City Hall. Wearing a velvet skirt and a pearl necklace, Carole descends the stone steps with her 1-year-old son on her hip, smiling at her wife, Jamey, who is clad in a white ruffled shirt and a slim tuxedo. A small group of people applauds and hoots for the newlyweds, including Josh Evans, the biological father of the Moore baby.

Within a few seconds, the nuptial cheer grows strained as a red-faced Christian protester advances on the Moore family, bellowing, "Why does one lesbian dress like a man? They even acknowledge the created order of God. Women are naturally attracted to masculinity."

The bellower, Robert Breaud, came from New Orleans to spread what he calls the word of God. "This is not a marriage; it's a mirage," he declares. "It's a worthless piece of paper."

A persistent vendor gradually drowns out Breaud's anti-gay dogma, hollering, "Queeeeeer coffee!" Among the picketers holding signs that read "Prepare to Meet Thy God," "Homosexuality Is a Sin" and "The Wicked Shall Be Turned to Hell," the Moores look at the ground and quickly push their baby stroller past the melee.

"It's amazing that people would want to take apart our love, something that is obviously so positive and pure," Carole says, after she has escaped to a more peaceful section of the sidewalk with her family and friends.

Despite the conservative backlash, this San Francisco couple are grateful to finally have their relationship legally honored, even if it is for a short time. "This is the beginning of a movement," Carole Moore proclaims. "Our certificates may be invalidated but there's no going back from here. It will continue, and we will have rights."

Well Behaved

For more than a week now, thousands of gay and lesbian couples have braved the frigid pre-dawn air to stand in line for hours outside of San Francisco City Hall, waiting for a chance to say, "I do," before right-wing groups and conservative politicians succeed in stopping the unions that have raised a furor of romance and controversy across the country.

On Feb. 12, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered the county clerk to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses, and the response has been enormous. By Friday, Feb. 20, more than 3,000 couples had been married.

Mountain View residents David Speakman and Rich Bean tied the knot on the afternoon of Feb. 15, after waiting since 7am. They showed up the day before, but were one of several hundred couples turned away when City Hall closed its doors at 5pm.

Speakman says volunteers were marrying people an average of one per minute, but even that wasn't fast enough to accommodate couples. By 10am, the line was wrapped around the entire building.

Since they had hours to kill, the South Bay pair made friends with the people waiting around them. They met two couples from Southern California who had driven to San Francisco the day before, and after discovering all the decently priced hotels in the city were full, they ended up staying at a place near the San Jose airport.

Speakman says he's been to many events with thousands of gay people, but this gathering was the most "well-behaved" he'd ever seen. "We were all calmly waiting our turn in line to finally be recognized that we had found the love of our lives," he says.

The two also took the opportunity to tell friends and family they were eloping. "I called Rich's mom to ask her permission," Speakman says. "You could hear tears in her voice when she was talking, and she was, like, all happy for us. She made me promise to love him as much as she does."

As they got closer to the ceremonies being performed inside the building, the couple began to realize the significance of what was happening. "It was kind of surreal," Speakman says. "I didn't think this would happen for decades."

He described the mood as a "hopeful anxiety" because many believed the courts wouldn't uphold their unions. "Even if it was only for two days, we were going to have a marriage license that was going to be recognized by one county," Speakman says. "That alone was worth it--just to validate that, like everyone else, our relationship matters."

Heal Our Nation

After President's Day weekend, news of gay marriage spread, and many people flew in from other states to exchange vows--and to object to the same-sex unions.

On Friday, Feb. 12, dozens of television cameras, reporters, protesters and onlookers are gathering in front of the government building. The calm atmosphere that Speakman described the previous weekend has given way to something a bit more chaotic.

"It's kind of like a circus out here," comments Luisa Rivera, a cross-dressing Latina from Hollywood. "It's hard to say whether the spirit is festive or fierce, but the tension is unmistakable."

Robert Breaud leads a group of anti-gay protesters, who stand in a semicircle around him as he preaches with a Bible in hand. "I can attest that you will never be satisfied in a homosexual relationship because you oppose God's order," he says. "Before you die of your partner murdering you, you need to come to Jesus."

His followers raise their Bibles high in agreement, shouting, "Amen."

Their vigil is broken up, as a woman with a heart-shaped sticker on her chest saying "We All Deserve the Freedom to Marry" confronts Breaud. "Why don't you just deal with your own problems," she demands, pointing her finger at him. "Focus on yourself!"

Another dissenter continues to challenge the conservative. "You're a hypocrite. You're gay, just admit it," he taunts. "Be a man. Love yourself for who you are." Alongside teenagers wearing T-shirts labeled "Trust Jesus," two smiling elderly women, joined in hand, raised signs saying "Just Married" and "Jesus Loves You Even If You Oppose Gay Marriage." A few feet away, two young men stand behind a white sheet, spray-painted with the words "2 Straight Guys Support the Right to Choose."

At the moment, the interactions aren't going beyond raised voices and indignant gestures, but SFPD officer Michael Fernandez says he has been active all morning. He and 12 other officers patrolling the scene have broken up several fights so far.

The controversy draws a wide range of onlookers, from curious neighbors to radical drifters. Many jump at the chance to practice freedom of expression on the municipal sidewalk that has become a heated arena of debate.

Clinton Fein, a gay San Francisco artist originally from South Africa, doesn't think gays and lesbians should mimic the heterosexual institution of marriage. He agrees they should have the freedom to marry, but says he doesn't need the government to validate his relationship with his partner.

Larry Edmond of San Francisco takes this opportunity to protest not only for gay marriage but also for African American reparations and the legalization of marijuana as well. He wears an orange cape and long dreadlocks interwoven with wilting leaves.

"Gay marriages represent the love that will heal our nation," he states in a guttural voice, explaining that there is too much violence in America and what we need is more love.

Bar Hopping

Leslie Bulbuk and Marta Donayre from Sunnyvale were among the first couples to exchange vows on that unluckiest of days, Friday the 13th. Sunnyvale City Councilmember Fred Fowler performed their ceremony.

Looking back, Bulbuk remembers their first date, four years ago. "Going out to coffee turned into going out to dinner, which turned into shopping and then sharing a bottle of wine at a bar in Palo Alto." They've been together ever since.

Bulbuk says that with thousands of gay and lesbian couples so eager to marry and celebrate their commitment to each other, the nation is getting a different picture of the homosexual community than the right-wing has played up. The old stereotypes make all gays into promiscuous, barhopping sex fiends.

"I think that people are beginning to see that what we represent is love, not discrimination or hate," Bulbuk points out. That's a contrast to the negative protesters at City Hall she saw on television a week after her own relatively peaceful ceremony. "They have a right to say what they need to say. I just try to ignore them," she says. "But I know other people have a lot harder time dealing with it."

God's Law

In the early afternoon on Feb. 20, the newlyweds seem to be both gleeful and slightly shaken up in the midst of all the political clamor. Michael Cosroush, an architect from Atlanta, Ga., is standing by the clerk's desk, waiting for his paperwork to be processed. This is the last stride in a marathon that began the day before.

He flew in last night with his partner, who he has been with for 21 years. The two arrived at City Hall before dawn, and after waiting in line for eight hours, they finally exchanged vows at noon. Cosroush looks a bit pale from exhaustion, and his hands are trembling, probably from an overdose of caffeine.

Earlier that morning, the atmosphere, Cosroush says, was "very vibrant," especially due to the "unpleasant protestors who were yellin' and chantin' and all that." Some of the picketers started a commotion inside the building and had to be escorted out by the police.

Meanwhile, Emily Renaud and Sara Graham, both students at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, have returned to show their support for the gay community after getting married the day before.

They are laughing over Breaud's megaphone and the voice of a well-muscled man arguing, "Why is it good to allow two people of the same sex to get married? Why not four people? Why not the whole neighborhood get married?"

The street preacher from Pennsylvania, named Mark Diener, is pointing out the perversions all around him and insisting that nations who don't follow God's law will be destroyed.

"They could not have brought better comedic entertainment," Renaud scoffs. "We should have to pay for this kind of humor."

She doesn't seem fazed by the criticism and exclaims excitedly, "When we get home we're going to show all our friends our marriage certificate and have a party!"

Graham puts her arm around Renaud and pronounces cheerfully, "Yeah, I'm her wife!"

A trio strikes up a lively jazz tune with a banjo, saxophone and trumpet. The sounds drown out some of the raised voices and ring of an edgy family wedding reception. One woman hands out flower bouquets from a wicker basket, and several college students give away small vegan cakes topped with strawberries and icing.

No Borders

Bulbuk, the Sunnyvale newlywed, says gay marriage has significantly brought the gay and lesbian community together. "A lot more people have become activists in the last couple of weeks, because once you have something called marriage, you really want to be able to keep it," she says.

Bulbuk herself has a history of activism because the law has directly affected her relationship with Donayre, who is from Brazil. Bulbuk wasn't able to sponsor Donayre as a same-sex partner, and the two were almost separated as Donayre's visa ran out. She found a sponsoring employer, but the two are taking action to prevent future obstacles with their outreach organization called Love Sees No Borders.

The marriages at City Hall won't be recognized at the federal level, thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996. The national government holds that marriage is only between a man and a woman, and therefore a union performed in one state doesn't necessarily hold up in another.

"People don't realize they need the legal protections of marriage before they face horrific circumstances in their lives," Bulbuk says. She knows a man whose partner died 16 years ago. He couldn't be with his partner in the hospital, couldn't see his remains or go to his funeral, and to this day, he doesn't know where his partner is buried.

Wide-Eyed

The afternoon sunlight is filtering through the high windows of City Hall, and the majestic, echoing interior is hushed with the gentle murmur of wedding ceremonies happening simultaneously.

On the wide marble steps of the central staircase, two blue-jean-clad young women stand before an older woman in a black suit. They hold a baby between them and are looking into each other's eyes, oblivious to the scattered spectators surrounding them.

Their wide-eyed baby places her curled fingers on top of their joined hands as they exchange vows. After they are pronounced "lifelong spouses," they kiss, embrace each other (sandwiching the bundle between them) and laugh at the cheers and applause that break out.


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From the March 3-10, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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