Bells and cameras, pavilions of joy

June 17, 2008

I just returned from six hours in West Hollywood on the first official day of same-sex marriage. The news has been full of it, and will be even more this evening and tomorrow, but I need to think and react as an individual to what I have seen and heard and done.

I came late to the party, so to speak, since marriage-hopefuls began lining up last night as early as 6:00 p.m. in order to be at the front of the line. (Fortunately, because I promised to bring hand-bells to ring, Councilman Duran’s office got me preferred parking a few steps away.)

The newly-printed marriage licenses were being issued in the large community auditorium in West Hollywood Park, near the intersection where four years ago we reacted with anger when the Supreme Court voided our San Francisco weddings, and where so many other historic moments in our movement have been observed. These new forms now say Partner A and Partner B, rather than Bride and Groom.

The media literally swarmed Star Trek actor George Takei and his partner Brad Altman as they got their application, walked across the large hall to pay their $70.00 and get their license, and proceed to the park itself where they could be married.

The City of West Hollywood had gone all out, with several information and volunteer tents-one for officiants, one for the media, with plenty of food and beverages on this hot summer morning-one for, and six stylish pavilions covered in white gauze with chandeliers, be-flowered and decorated arches and flowing draperies where individual ceremonies were being held.

The park was not being mobbed, apparently, because many of the excited applicants pulled their marriage licenses and then left, apparently planning to have ceremonies elsewhere or on another day. I fully understand, since my partner and I intend to be married in the fall in a church ceremony.

To add to the festive atmosphere, a pastoral colleague and I rang English handbells repeatedly, under the trees, as couples came through the lines, and exchanged their promises before deputized officiants, including West Hollywood officials. The day was peaceful, almost mundane, with neighborhood children play on the swing sets in the park only a few feet beyond this festival of love and commitment.

I suppose as a result of the attention we received by being dressed in clerical garb and ringing the bells in repeated peals, I was interviewed, I think about eight times: by CBS, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, some others I don’t remember or didn’t ask, and by an independent lesbian film maker. Even my hands were videotaped as I rang the bells! I realized it made good visuals and interesting sounds for TV and radio.

Repeatedly I was asked why I was there and what the day meant for me. “Two things,” I repeatedly explained. This is a historic day for the community, and for the legal progress that has been made in securing legal rights and public respect for lesbian and gay people, who want nothing more from society than the chance to accept responsibility for one another and to live their lives with dignity. “But secondly,” I said, “My partner of 32 years and I fully intend to be married also.” No one looked particularly shocked by that, even though I appeared to be your typical neighborhood Roman Catholic priest.

A few reporters were interested enough to ask more of my personal background, which is not particularly unusual. We have been a part of this movement, I said, for decades. We have marched and demonstrated. We fought the Briggs initiative, and then the Knight initiative. We had a private religious ceremony in our living room many years ago, then filed papers for the California Domestic Partnership registry in 2002. Two years later, we were part of that lesbian/gay wave of humanity that rolled into San Francisco to be married in February 2004 in City Hall’s grand rotunda. This is a historic day in California, but it is also a deeply personal historic day in our own lives.

More than a year after the California Supreme Court nullified our San Francisco marriage certificates, we were able to get an autograph on ours by Mayor Gavin Newsom himself during Outfest in Los Angeles.

Kerry Chaplin, the talented (and eligible) young interfaith organizer for California Faith for Equality, had all manner of talking points available for speaking to the media, and by the end of the day I realized that I had never had a chance to read through them in advance. As it turns out, I think, every single lesbian or gay couple who forms a legal marriage becomes a “talking point” against the pernicious proposed amendment headed for the November ballot which would end this summer of love.

Many of the couples participating were long-time couples, seeking to protect their families and their legal rights. But at the end of the day, I was approached by two young women, together as a couple only one year. They were both raised Catholic, they said, but wanted to have at least a Christian ministry preside over their ceremony. I was delighted to be asked, and touched by their depth and their excitement about this new day dawning.

If the excitement of it all, and concern for the legal maneuvers of the religious right, made me nervous, in the end it was the genuineness of these young women and their optimism about their new life together, which gave me a sense of deep peace. God bless them. God bless all of them!!

Pastor Dan Hooper, Los Angeles