"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 early New York marches and actions. And 34 years later, last Friday the 13th, 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.
President's Day weekend was extraordinary. Starting Feb. 12, when 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 750 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 Newsome's defiance of California's prohibition of same-sex marriage broke on international news. By Friday morning, we were ready. 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 hoping 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. A woman I had never met before let me use her cell phone to call our dear friend Bla Nuss, who left work to witness our wedding. 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, normally the mayor's community liaison, was a confirmed heterosexual, born in the Castro, who had been deputized especially for the occasion. It felt like one huge family coming together after a long, enforced separation.
Things felt a bit different on Monday afternoon when this newlywed returned to help others. Processes were far more organized, and a number of 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.
What does it all mean? 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.
Bellecci-Serinus writes about music and reviews audiophile equipment for publications throughout the United States, including the Independent. Public Eye, which usually runs in this space, will return next week.