A wedding in San Francisco affirms spirit of love first voiced in NYC 34 years ago
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 in New York. Love, the one 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, on Friday the 13, 2004, 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 Bellicci-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.
There are only two other times in my long history with gay liberation that I have felt such incredible unanimity of spirit. One was at a 1970 summer evening’s gay dance in New York City’s Alternate U. Within minutes of entering the packed space, this middle class white Jewish boy had joined an exuberant multi-racial kick line of street walking transvestites. All divisions seemed to vanish as we threw up our heels, singing and shouting our new anthem: Aretha’s “Respect.”
The other was at the first Lesbian/Gay March on Washington in 1979 when hundreds of thousands of dykes and fags locked arms and swayed side to side as Holly Near led us in choruses of “We Are a Gentle, Loving People.”
David and I discussed getting married on Thursday, shortly after word of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s defiance of California’s prohibition of same-sex marriage broke. By Friday morning, we were ready. First, we completed our regular run in Oakland’s Redwoods. Then, 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. Two women I had never met before let me use their cell phone to call our dear friend Béla Nuss, who left work to witness our wedding.
David and I were cheered as we headed to the “altar,” the long steps leading up City Hall’s gleaming rotunda. The man who conducted our ceremony, the mayor’s community liaison, was a confirmed heterosexual, born in the Castro, who had been deputized specially 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. The process was far more organized, and a number of burned out volunteers and sheriff’s deputies were in super-control mode. Some couples there to take their vows had to accept the reality that, with so many people mobbing the building, their mothers, sisters, and friends who had waited outside hoping to witness their unions could not get in. I soothed a number of these spouses-to-be, temporarily broken-hearted, helping them reconnect with the love that had brought them there in the first place.
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.
Jason Bellecci-Serinus lives in Oakland and writes about music for publications including Gay City News, Opera News, and adante.com and is a member of the Music Critics Association of North America and the International Association of Whistlers.