Spencer Jones and Tyler Barrick, newly wed, June 17, 2008.
It’s their stories that bring you to tears, stories of love, commitment and a desire to wed that would all be very ordinary, except that these people are entering into state sanctioned same-sex marriages for the very first time. (For many more pictures and stories, visit our Guardian's SF blog.)
“Amazing” says a youthful Tyler Barrick. “Overwhelming,” says the equally youthful Spencer Jones, as they emerge from the cool marble of San Francisco City Hall into the bright light of noon, June 17, 2008, as husband and husband for the very first time.
“This is our first, and hopefully, only attempt we’re going to make at marriage,” Jones says.
Inside City Hall, an immaculately dressed Paul Stevens and Ron Weaver are preparing to wed for the second time. Their first time occured February 13, 2004, when a newly sworn in Mayor Gavin Newsom decided to conduct same sex marriages at City Hall, stunning an entire nation and delighting its gay and lesbian communities.
Stevens and Weaver meet some of the running dogs of the media, inside City Hall
“We heard about it coming into work and we got married in our work clothes,” Weaver laughs, recalling that first happy wedding day.
In a relationship with Stevens for 17 years, Weaver also recalls becoming really depressed when their first marriage was nullified, on August 12, 2004, six months after their first fantastically spontaneous wedding day.
“I laid around for several days, I felt society had let me down, I took it very personally, I felt I was not good enough in their eyes,” Weaver says.
“I was surprised at my reaction to that first wedding,” Weaver adds. “I felt like a different person, so complete. I didn’t know that would happen , so when it was taken away from me, I felt as if the whole country was against me.”
Sharon Papo and Amber Weiss seal their marriage with a kiss.
Stevens recalls how, after the November 2004 election, some blamed Newsom’s bold February 2004 stance on gay marriage for Sen. John Kerry’s failure to win the presidency.
“Sen. Dianne Feinstein was saying that it was too much, too fast, too soon,” Stevens said. “But when is it too soon for civil rights?”
Stevens and Weaver feel that Democratic Presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama should suppport gay marriage.
“But it is nice that he does not support a constitutional amendment,” they say, referring to conservative attempts to ensure that marriage only occurs between women and men.
Neither has involved their respective families in this, their second big day
“They are a little embarrassed that their sons are getting married,” they explain. “ They support us, but not before their peers.”
Noting that his husband is a physician, Weaver says “ People don’t know that he is gay and getting married, but he is helping them [as patients]. So maybe they could help us, by supporting us getting married.”
Formerly a nuclear medicine technologist, Weaver confides that he retired two years ago, after he was able to get healthcare benefits as Stevens’ domestic partner.
“Now, I’m able to help him with daily chores,” Weaver says, alluding to Stevens busy schedule. “ We are actually a family!”
They believe that the next stop for gay marriage is at the federal level, including winning the right for same sex spouses to file joint federal income tax returns, but for now, they are relishing the knowledge that for the first time they can now enjoy equal rights with other married couples in California.
“In 1999, when my previous partner died of HIV/AIDS, his family turned on me,” Weaver recalls “Everyone was saying ‘sorry' to the parents, but nothing to me. It’s hard to lose a child, but it’s also hard to lose a partner.”
“The clergyman didn’t even mention his name,” Stevens adds on Weaver’s behalf.
Married legally at last: Lynda Cence and Carola Dietrick embrace.
At the top of the sweeping stairs that lead to City Hall’s impressive second floor, Lynda Cence and Carola Dietrick, who have been together for 17 years, have just tied the knot for the second time, surrounded by their kids.
“It was very sad when our first marriage was nullified.” Dietrick tells me.
“I felt if it happened once, it could happen again,” Cence adds. "But if it does, we will get married a third and a fourth time. This will come to be.”
“Commitment” says Dietrick, asked what it has taken same sex couples to weather society’s resistance to same sex marriage and the political storms that have ensued over the years.
“With commitment comes courage and everything else," Dietrick explains.
“With it comes the will to stand up and be counted,” Cence adds. ‘This is a special moment. We are standing up for many people, and for future generations.”
Both express relief that legalized same sex marriage will allow them to have community properties and ease the transition in the instance of inheritance.
“We want to pass things onto our kids without inheritance tax,” they explain.
“Also, I will be able to be with Lynda and she with me, if we end up in hospital,” Dietrick says, recalling how once she couldn’t visit Lynda in hospital, “because in the eyes of the law I was nobody.”
Before they were married, Cence and Dietrick used to have to pretend to be sisters to visit one another in hospital.
“But since then,” I got in by saying she was my sister. Don’t we look alike?” she laughs, a twinkle in her eyes, as she pulls her new bride so close, that their faces touch, and the pair exchange a tender kiss.
“ I would hope that Obama would win the presidential election,” Dietrick continues. “With him, as an African American I believe we have a chance of progress. Because he should understand that any kind of discrimination is wrong. In 1948, the first interracial marriage was allowed in San Francisco. Sixty years later, we are starting a new phase in history.”
Jennifer Kozumplik and Nicole Webber prepare to wed at San Francisco City Hall.
Outside the Board of Supervisors chambers, on City Hall’s second floor rotunda, a tuxedoed Nicole Webber is marrying a bridal dressed Jennifer Kozumplik, surrounded by friends, family and their 18-month old daughter, Sophia.
The pair met when they were both in high school, at which time they were just friends. They eventually reconnected and have been together for almost 17 years.
“We first got married on February 13, 2004,” Webber recalls. “It was disappointing when our marriage was nullified. It wasn’t unexpected, but we were extremely grateful to Mayor gavin Newsom for putting his political life in the line to defend a constitutional right.”
Webber is hopeful that this time their marriage will stand in the eyes of the law.
“I think this is it,” she says. “California voters are a lot younger than when Prop. 22 went through, and have got a lot better at defeating a hate bill than they did before.
Sharon Papo and Amber Weiss ascend the steps inside City Hall.
Cameras flash as Amber Weiss, 31, and Sharon Papo, 29, ascend City Hall’s marble steps, both wearing white lacy wedding dresses.
“We got married in August 2005 in Santa Cruz,” Weiss confides. “It was a wedding in spirit, witnessed by a hundred of our closet friends and two rabbis.”
So, how do they feel about the chances of their first “legal” marriage being nullified, given that California voters will decide on a state constitutional amendment, placed on the November ballot by a conservative coalition that wants to ban same-sex marriage.
“I feel cautiously optimistic,” Weiss says. “I have faith that the people of California will not chose to write discrimination into the constitution.”
As for progress on the federal front, Papo says both she and Weiss support Obama.
“His position towards the gay and lesbian community is much more supportive than McCain,” Papo says. “We are absolutely hopeful.”
Downstairs, in City Hall’s foyer, Laurelee Rourk tells me that as a Universal Life Minister, she is about to marry her brother Keith St. Clair and his partner of three years, Ali Reza Tavakkoli.
“Keith has been gay ever since I’ve known him,” Rourk laughs, “He’s been working on gay rights all his life, he’s been working on this since the 1960s, and he was the first gay man who was able to foster a child in San Francisco, thirty years ago.”
Looking around at the scene—a scene punctuated every few minutes by wild whoops of joy and victory, as another couple is declared legally knotted—Rourk adds, “This is their right to be here.”
As for the fuss that opponents of same-sex marriage are currently making, “We’re gonna be so embarrassed as a country in 20 years,” Rourk predicts. “The young are the ones who are going to save our asses. The rest of us have to follow the young, as usual. But there isn’t anything weird going on here, today. It’s just unusual because of the numbers of people getting married, but otherwise it’s all very normal. Just people with babies and grown children who have been together for 50 years. They [opponents of same sex marriage] always think someone is going to bring in a kangaroo, or five wives, but these are just people in love.”
Noting that Massachussetts, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, has the lowest divorce rate, Rourk adds, “Wouldn’t it be great of we can raise the number of marriages that don’t end in divorse, because we did this, because we let people who are truly committed get married?”
Richard Look and Curt Garman sport cool wedding fedoras.
Up on the third floor Richard Look, who works for the City and County of San Francisco and Curt Garman, who works for an insurance company are tying the knot, wearing fedoras and vintage suits, surrounded by family and friends.
“They have been together for 15 years, they were at my wedding 14 years ago, they’ve been family for all that time, so it’s about time that this is official,” Melissa Anderson, who is married to Look’s nephew, tells me, noting that the couple had a commitment ceremony AND became domestic partners a couple of years ago and now live in Novato.
“When I told my 8-year old daughter that I was going to their wedding today, she asked, ‘have they been engaged all this time?’” Anderson says, tearing up. “I wanted them to be them married today, so that 100 years from now, someone will say, that was a gigantic day in history. “
One floor below, at ceremony location H, Mali Kigasari, who works for liberal campaigns, and Elizabeth Kristen, a public interest lawyer, each wearing white shirts and dark pants, indulge in a wedding that incorporates ancient traditions into this very new rite of same-sex marriage.
Kigasari and Kristen hope the sugar sprinkling wellwishers will add even more sweetness to their marriage.
“Without the Calfornia Supreme Court’s ruling of May 15,” says Kristen’s mother, Kathryn Braemanm, an adminstrative judge in Washington, D.C, “this would not be happening. So this ruling," she adds, lifting a copy of that big fat Supreme Court ruling has become the Holy Grail.”
Braeman says that in Washington, D.C, people in the streets were exultant when the California courts ruled same sex marriage legal, even if the folks in the White House were not.
“Last time,” she adds, recalling how her daughter and partner got married at SF City Hall for the first time in 2004, “I paid to place a wedding annoucement in the Washington Post, and it cost me $500 because I had to send a certificate.”
Braeman notes that some White House insiders are sympathetic to same-sex marriage, even as the official presidential position remains one of disapproval.
“At the last wedding, the person who does the flowers for the White House, they arranged for a bouquet to be sent, but the current political position is so terrible that no one, is going to have an easy path. The present president has only made things worse.”