Helping gay couples get hitched gave me a new respect for a tradition I’ve been happy to escape
I’m a straight, single man, who, during Valentine’s weekend and for several days that followed, performed weddings as a deputized marriage commissioner for the city and county of San Francisco. “I’m surprised that you are doing it,” my mother said when I called her from my cell phone, between weddings. An ex-girlfriend expressed similar amazement, clearly alluding to my own reluctance to get hitched. I may or may not gel married some day, but that’s a decision for me-and my potential partner-to make. I have the freedom to choose, and I can’t understand why any of my fellow citizens would be denied that same freedom.
Why did I, a proud bachelor, participate in the ma Because of friendship. Gay friends of mine had dri Angeles and gotten married first thing on the morning of Feb. 13, the second day of legal same-sex marriages. The city official who performed John and Duncan’s ceremony suggested they come back as volunteers to help others who wanted to marry. I went with them out of curiosity-but the excitement and good will were so powerful that I found myself unable to leave. Though my friends and I had no connections, we talked our way into getting deputized.
I learned as much about love in a few days as I had in the previous 32 years. I saw couples who had been together for two years, 12 years, even 22 years. Some came from as far away as Louisiana and New Jersey. Others came from the far side of the world. Their long drives, red-eye flights and patient waiting in the rain outside city hall lasted longer than Britney Spears’s marriage. So why have people laughed off that fiasco-and countless other celebrity marriage bombs-while President George W. Bush backs a constitutional amendment to defend marriage from gay unions?
It’s easy to take the institution for granted when getting married is as simple as showing up at a wedding chapel. But when people spend years in relationships that society refuses to recognize, their appreciation soars. As one of the bachelors from an ever-dwindling number of singles in my social circle, I’ve bragged about how I haven’t caved in to social pressure and become “dull” like my married friends.
But there was nothing “dull” about any of the marriages I took part in-nothing staid or stagnant about the tearful, joyous couples I met. They were not acquiescing to social pressure. They were showing great courage in affirming their relationships before a society that excludes them.
Defend lraditional marriage from gay unions? How absurd! My experience has strengthened my respect for the institution. It’s forced me to rethink the mild contempt I have had for marriage and realize how wonderful it can be when two people love each other so much that they are willing to tie their destinies together.
It is entirely appropriate that I shared this experience with my friends John and Duncan, because they have often played a key role helping me accept gays as equals. lohn has been a dear friend since my second week of college, back east, nearly 15 years ago. At the time, I was uncomfortable with the idea of homosexuality, and the concept of gay marriage had not even occurred to me.
John and I became inseparable while he was still closeted and I was too naive to realize it. When he did come out, at the end of my freshman year, I was dumbfounded. It was one of the most momentous events of my young life. Whatever I thought about gays in the abstract, I couldn’t turn away from one of my best friends.
I began to reconsider the way I viewed an entire segment of society. By the time I moved to San Francisco in 1994, my decision wasn’t influenced one way or another by it being the “gayest city in America.” I chose to live here because of the mild weather, good food and nice people-straight and gay.
John and Duncan had already been unofficially married for a year when I moved to San Francisco, and they are still together 10 years later. In those 10 years I’ve dated dozens of women. I’ve seen a few straight marriages-and plenty of straight relationships-fall apart.
I’ve also seen some straight relationships flourish. These couples have endured all the trials of life, including raising children, right next door to gay couples doing the very same thing. What many Americans fear has been a reality for years in San Francisco. Nothing terrible has come of it, but quite a few wonderful things have.
“The contract of marriage is most solemn and is not to be entered into lightly,” I told each couple, reading the introductory remarks for all city-hall weddings. But they all had known that long before I told them. “You’ve restored my faith in the institution of marriage,” I told two beautiful, beaming women after I had proclaimed them spouses for life.
Captain is a journalist living in San Francisco.
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