by Tim Miller
There are those who might think that celebrating Valentine's Day by having you and your partner refused a marriage license is not the most romantic way to mark the holiday. I suppose I can understand that sentiment, but personally I can't imagine a more real, emotional, and tender way to escape from the Hallmark Card platitudes of February 14. Since more straight folks choose to get engaged or married on Valentine's Day than on any other day of the year, Marriage Equality California staged rallies all over the state to advocate for equal civil marriage rights for gay couples. Gathering outside of courthouses and city halls, Marriage Equality California drew attention to the injustice lesbian and gay partners face in our state by being denied the 1049 special heterosexual privileges of marriage.
That long list of rights denied gay people matters a lot to my partner and I. Alistair is from Australia and we, like all gay bi-national couples in America, are denied the same immigration privileges that are reserved for straight married couples. We are facing the scary reality that unless America changes its unfair laws, we will be forced to leave the United States in about a year and seek immigration asylum in a more civilized country than the US in order to maintain our relationship. Obviously this motivated us to get in the car and head into town from our cozy house! I confess I had resisted going throughout the morning - do we really want to put ourselves through the wringer on V-Day - but I was really glad we did.
From Los Angeles to Sacramento, San Francisco to Eureka, hundreds of Californians gathered on Valentine's Day to protest this denial of gay people's civil rights. Alistair and I went to the Feb 14 Demonstration at the marriage license office at the Beverly Hills Courthouse. I wanted to mark Valentine's Day with my partner of seven years by protesting how gay folks' relationships are treated so disrespectfully in our country. I hope some day Alistair and I won't need to spend our V-Day putting ourselves in the position where our relationship is refused validation by a governmental official behind bulletproof glass, but that's life in America in 2001! Surrounded by gay couples and supporters huddled there for support in the shadow of governmental buildings that do not respect our humanity, rally speakers Robin Tyler, Mitchell Anderson, Rabbi Denise Eger and others spoke passionately against the injustice of not allowing gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. Then - the big moment-the couples who were planning to request a marriage license prepared to challenge the laws of our state.
Alistair and I joined many couples who were going to attempt to apply for a marriage license. First things first, we fill out the form. Immediately the sexism and homophobia of the document leaps out at us and we quickly cross out the word bride and "correct" the form so there were two grooms! We took turns in our blocky letters to write down our father's names and what our mothers were called before they were married. This was so moving - this ritual of calling up the parents, putting our names and our love on the line.
Sticking close to the nice lesbian couple in front of us --I always look to dykes for moral support -- we went through the metal detectors, approached the glassed in processing windows and gave our form to the official. It was refused, of course. She read from a form (they were prepared) and told us that in the State of California a marriage can only be between a man and a woman (who knew?!?!). The woman behind the glass, who was very sweet and seemed a little ashamed of her job this particular day, advised us to take it up with our elected officials. Always ready to climb on my soapbox, I said to her, "I know this is not your fault, but I want you to know that because we don't have the same rights as straight Californians, my partner and I will be forced to leave the country next year. " She shrugged and tried to melt under the counter. We walked out the double doors clutching our rejected marriage license application.
All over California on Valentine's Day, dozens of same-sex couples lined-up at government counters to apply for a marriage license. We peacefully demanded full and legal recognition of our relationships and one after another were told that gay people cannot request these rights in our state and our applications were all denied. I believe this should piss us off, get us cranky and maybe get us off our butts. I have never felt a more tangible denial of my equality than to be being told I can't get a license while straight couples breezed by around me. GRRRR. This felt like one of the most useful demos I've gone to in years. It is almost surreal to have someone explaining to me that my relationship of seven years doesn't count while to my right a straight couple who seemed to have just fallen out of a sleazy singles bar get the seal of approval.
On the other hand, I have to say I was also inspired by the strong gestures made by heterosexual gay marriage supporters like Bruce Bradley and his partner Lisa. Bruce is one of the organizers of Marriage Equality California and we need a million cool straight folks like him. Bruce and Lisa appeared at the rally, ripped their application for marriage license in two, and Bruce movingly spoke, ""My partner Lisa and I filled out this marriage license application today. If we turn this in, we will be granted hundreds of rights. Lisa and I were engaged in 1999. When we learned about marriage discrimination, we decided we could not legally marry until our gay and lesbian friends could do the same. And I ask every heterosexual couple who cares about equality to do the same. If you wouldn't eat in a restaurant that refused service to people because of the color of their skin, or you wouldn't join a country club that refused membership to Jews, then do not participate in an institution that discriminates against gay and lesbian Americans." As Bruce and Lisa tore the form in half, he said, "This is what we think of this piece of paper --and we will not get legally married until you can do the same." WOW!
Well, that's how we spent Valentine's Day. By the time we got home later that afternoon, we were too beat to go have the romantic dinner and then go see Chocolat (A straight, date movie I know. But we love Johnny Depp!). As we drove home, a vision started to be take form in my mind's eye. I could see a time when filling out this marriage license form wouldn't just be an activist gesture doomed to rejection. There was a sweetness to imagine that some day in the future we might actually live in a society where gay people's love would also be valued. To stand there in front of the courthouse filling out the marriage license form with Alistair had been very powerful for me. Conjuring that future is going to require many such hopeful and quixotic acts, a thousand such fierce gestures that dare to shout that our love is worthy and our hearts are strong. Happy Valentine's Day.
Tim Miller is a solo performer and the author of Shirts & Skin, published by Alyson. He can be reached at http://hometown.aol.com/millertale/timmiller.html