July 1, 2013 was a beautiful and jubilant day, as same-sex couples in Delaware and California exchanged wedding vows.
I drove to West Hollywood, California to be a part of the festivities. The feeling of love was everywhere!
"It's about time," one woman exclaimed, commenting on the marriages that were about to take place. Someone played the John Lennon song "Imagine" in the background, which brought a smile to my face. Yes, people said we were dreamers when we started Marriage Equality California back in 2000 -- and now that dream is reality and here to stay!
I entered the West Hollywood city council chambers to watch the councilmembers be deputized to perform wedding ceremonies. The mood was celebratory, with only one spectator dissenting. The woman loudly stated that Jesus would be ashamed; some shouting back and forth ensued and she was then escorted out of the room.
Outside of city hall, wearing striped shirts and seated below a rainbow-colored banner reading "marriages," were David Barney and Paul Mejia, who waited 43 years to be legally married. David held his cane. Wanda Lawson and Lauryne Braithwaite, together for 32 years, sat alongside them wearing white shirts and matching rainbow-colored flower leis. The couples exchanged stories of their lives together. For these couples, who have already had long, happy relationships, the happily-ever-afters are Social Security benefits and the long-overdue official recognition of their marriages by the government.
The county clerk, who wore a purple striped tie and a blue button reading "Keep Calm and Marry On," was grinning from ear to ear. It's truly a great day for West Hollywood!
I snapped photos of Ariel and Louis, two adorable men who have been together for 13 years. The couple wore matching white shirts, tan pants, and brown shoes. Ariel and Louis came alone and seemed shy, so I offered to document their historic moment. The mayor of West Hollywood, Abbe Land, performed their wedding ceremony. They were so nervous that Ariel extended his right hand and Louis almost put the ring on the wrong finger. But who can blame them? Many of us have been there. Besides, how can they not be nervous exchanging vows in front of dozens of reporters snapping photos?
Perhaps it's nerves, or internalized homophobia, but some of the couples don't hold hands during the service and their public "You may kiss your spouse" kisses are a little tentative. I think of all the times gay people have been shamed for showing affection, for "flaunting our sexuality." I hope that with each day that marriage equality is legal, same-sex couples will feel more comfortable holding hands and engaging in public displays of affection. "You may now kiss your bride" and "You may now kiss your groom" should be followed by a kiss long enough for a photographer to snap a photo. In Ariel and Louis's case, I was able to capture a beautiful embrace of joy!
It's a little strange to be behind the camera at a marriage equality event instead of in front of it. It's unfamiliar, a little humbling maybe, but fun to document the smiles and love of the newlyweds. I've had my moment and now it's their time.
Last Friday night, I drove into West Hollywood to celebrate the Ninth Circuit lifting the stay on same-sex marriages in California. I felt a little sad that I wasn't in San Francisco to celebrate with all the people I worked with over the years to make marriage equality a reality in this state.
Still being new to Los Angeles, I ended up turning into a residential area and then driving up some street toward Santa Monica Boulevard. As I was stopped at the stoplight, I glanced left and saw my seminal book on marriage equality, Why You Should Give A Damn About Gay Marriage, in the window. I quickly put my car in reverse, parked, and ran out to snap a shot. I remembered when I used to dream about being a published author and imagined my book on the bookshelves in Barnes and Nobles in Iowa, where they have marriage equality, and in store windows across the country. It was another reminder of personal dreams that have come true and the power of our imaginations to create those big dreams in the first place.
What new dreams will emerge as we paint the remaining 37 states equal? We still have to pass ENDA. We still have to end transphobia and make sure that trans people have equal opportunities and access to employment and healthcare. There's some serious work to be done in Uganda and Russia -- among other places -- for LGBT people. What will life be like in the post-DOMA era?