Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Same-Sex Marriage June 08

It was a crowd celebration laced with cyanide as vehement proponents on both sides of the same-sex marriage divide gathered outside the Civic Centre yesterday evening. Inside, Mayor Gavin Newsom performed the first symbolic wedding and oversaw the issuing of licenses to over 160 other same-sex couples who will marry later.

As the California Supreme Court's controversial ruling to allow same-sex marriage came into effect after 5 pm yesterday, hundreds of supporters and demonstrators gathered to mark the proceedings.

It was a noisy, contentious event as the crowd stood outside waiting for couples to emerge, waving their licenses. It was at times abusive with placards and posters, some with graphic words and illustrations, being waved around.

The crowd reflected all shades of opinion. 'I'm 'straight',' said Rebecca, 'but I'm really excited about this because I've always felt this is the way things should be.' Her friend, Anna, enthused, 'I second that. And I'm 'straight' too!'

Opposition appeared to come from churches and organizations from outside of the city with no sign of local church involvement. Clinging to a long white pole beneath a banner opposing homosexuality was 17-year-old Mike. He belonged to a group under the internet name of savebiblicalmarriage.org.

With the legal battle of same-sex marriage not yet over - there will be a popular vote in November that may overturn the Supreme Court ruling - I asked him if he thought they would win.

'It's kind of hard to tell if we're going to win or not but we have to do our duty. The result's are God's,' he said.

'F...you! F... you!' almost spat a guy as he walked past us.

From the front of the Civic Centre the song, 'We're going to the chapel, and we're going to get married!' could be heard over the plaza.

A group of young girls from the extreme, independent Kansas church, Westboro Baptist, accused of hatred against homosexuals, waved the most graphic placards, some of which had drawings and said, 'God hates fag enablers' and 'Dykes wed.' The girls were coralled by the kerbside in a pen made of metal barriers, probably for their own safety as their placards attracted intermittent shouts.

The group also had a vehicle covered in posters touring the streets.

Do you think your posters are a little graphic? I asked one girl.

But she replied, referring to homosexuality, 'It's an abomination to the Lord.'

'Ignorance and stupidity,' cut in a man beside me.

Discovering that her name was Victoria and she was only 15-years-old, I asked how she felt about being there. 'I feel very honoured that my Lord my God has given me this chance to be here,' she said.

In front of the group a woman walked past carrying a placard...'Eating Lobster is an abomination too.' Behind them men dressed in priests' attire taunted, 'We're getting married!'

'I think it's about time that all religious laws are distinct from State laws and I'm really happy to see it,' said Tim, the 'it' referring to the evening's event. A lady standing with him agreed. 'The signs are horrendous,' she said, pointing particularly at one by the steps of the Civic Centre that read, 'Homo sex is a threat to national security.'

Anonymously, another man said, 'I think it's a wonderful day.'

By this stage, a slow steady stream of people were exiting the Civic Centre and waving or giving a 'thumbs up' sign. They were couples, accompanied by family and friends, who had been granted licenses in readiness for marriage ceremonies, some of which were held today. Each time a small group emerged, many in the crowd clapped and cheered, some also waving red roses.

I crossed the road and stood in the melee near the steps of the Civic Centre. In front of me two young men kissed affectionately, arms around each other.

A broadcast journalist with a microphone came down the steps to interview people. 'Love! Love! Love! shouted the crowd.

'I know who the 'abomination' is!' said one woman behind me in derision at a poster.

It was then that a small surge of protest occurred around Bill, from Fremont across the Bay. Bill held aloft another of the large white posters that said, 'Homo sex is sin,' and wore a hard hat inscribed with 'sexual pervert.' He looked ready to battle with a mob.

To chants of 'Christian fascists go away!' Bill shouted back, 'Jesus Christ is God and you will all bow before Him,' and arguments broke out, Ruth, an older lady, said to me, ' As a 'straight' San Franciscan I am absolutely delighted that lesbians and gays will have similar rights to me and I hope the rest of America will catch up.'

Someone shouted at Bill, 'How would you feel if someone said being 'straight' is a sin...here you are defiling this place with your bigotry.'

'All homophobes are secretly gay,' shouted Michael.

''The bible is a book of fiction,' Lisa called out.

The sight of Bill's poster enraged George. 'I love ....sex! I don't care who I do it with!' he yelled at Bill. 'God loves me! I am gay!' he asserted. And then sung an old childrens' chorus...'Jesus loves me this I know, For the bible tell me so.....'

'You're just completely full of crap!' Ruth added to Bill.

Meanwhile the chants continued. 'We don't want your hypocrisy! We don't want your theocracy! Christians, go home!'

But Bill, dressed in his hard hat was undaunted and ready to battle. 'Blah! Blah! Blah! Blah! That's what Jesus is going to say to you,' he yelled back.

'Blah! Blah! Blah!' echoed the noisy crowd.

Two other men shouted, 'God says "never to judge",' and 'Christian fascists go back to your patriarchal cave.'

I retreated, and found myself standing with Lisa. What did I think?' she asked. I was honest and said that I did not support gay marriage, but that I also thought the posters and opposition were too strident. And suddenly, with Lisa, a self-confessed agnostic with a Jewish background, I was in an oasis of civility. She raised the fundamental issues that underline this debate and we discussed them. Whilst she profoundly disagreed with me, we enjoyed our conversation and shook hands as we parted.

Across the plaza, as the crowds were thinning - it was about 7 pm by now - there was another contretemps.

'Homophobia is totalitarian,' boomed a guy with a megaphone.

'Jesus is Lord. He's the Saviour of the world,' a guy holding a pole with a large placard loudly responded.

'There is no dictator in the sky telling us what to do with our .....!'

'Homosexuality is still sin!'

And at that point I left, only to suddenly bump into two young guys at the end of the plaza who had got their license to marry and had just finished an interview with a TV journalist.

Beautifully dressed, with one carrying a bunch of lilies, they radiated happiness. 'We're nesters not roamers,' said one as they walked down the pavement with another lady and me.

It turned out they were married four years ago in a brief legal opportunity that was rescinded shortly after. So today will be their second wedding.

Whatever one's view, they didn't deserve the humiliation and haranguing meted out by some of the protestors.

As thousands of gay couples are expected to tie the knot over the summer, Christian and Conservative opposers have acted legally. They have caused the issue to be included in the November 4, 2008, General Election ballot when votes for the next president of the USA will be cast, and each state votes on a range of it's own issues.

Should the popular vote overturn the Supreme Court's ruling, same-sex couples will once again only be able to register for a domestic partnership.

Pictures of the event are available on my Web Gallery