Heart of the City Archives: Wedstock

02/14/04: Wedstock newlyweds on the steps of City Hall. Detail >>










Extra: 02/19/04
Wedstock: The shot heard 'round the world - and Baltimore
by Hank Donat

A publisher from a newspaper in Baltimore asked me if I had any photos of a groom from San Francisco's gay wedding phenomenon I call Wedstock. So I sent him my own.

On St. Valentine's Day I tied the knot with my partner of four years. We arrived at City Hall at 8:30 a.m. and were one of the last few couples on the Van Ness Avenue side, before the line wrapped around McAllister. When we exited on the Polk Street side at 12:30 p.m., we met the line.

The intervening four hours were among the happiest of my life.

Many have long lamented an era when a well of love sprang from the progressive San Francisco community that was so pure and plentiful it is tempting to think it existed only in our imaginations. Our rich cultural record reminds us it was real.

The Beatniks, the Summer of Love, and the gay freedom movement were political and cultural. The more recent dot com era was all about money.

Because of the bold move by Mayor Gavin Newsom to stop the discrimination that has historically prevented same-sex couples from applying for marriage licenses, San Francisco has emerged once again as a beacon of justice for the world.

In many aspects it has been difficult for me to think of this as an act of civil disobedience. I married for love. And, in spite of the legal ambiguities, I don't feel the public trust has been violated in any way. I think that Newsom is upholding the Constitution, as he swore to do, and that Proposition 22 and the Defense of Marriage Act are unconstitutional.

The fact is, like so many of the Wedstock couples, Jeff and I were already married in every way except municipally. Of the endless parade of brides and grooms on television, my favorite was the one who was asked by a reporter why she was wearing a wedding gown. "Because I finally have a chance to marry my wife," she said.

Last October I had planned to write a column called "Confessions of a Gay Housewife," but the idea got sidetracked because I was excited about the mayor's race and other stories.

When I'm not writing, I'm visiting communities in neighborhoods all over the city in order write about San Francisco in a meaningful way. When I'm not doing those things, I'm doing everything a person does to make a house a home.

That requires a lot of cooking, cleaning, and entertaining. I darn socks, something I attribute to being from New England, and my obsession with stories and pictures spills over to the family archive.

I value that life and I love Jeff, a corporate marketing professional. We have an unconventional life because we are blessed by the fortunes of San Francisco and by each other.

I have been out as a gay man just about all my adult life but nothing could have prepared me for the wave of emotions that came with a kind of recognition I once eschewed, the recognition of the state.

What I know, and what my 6,000 (so far) wedded brothers and sisters know, is that history will uphold these marriages. Any legal nullification of the licenses will be temporary, even if they are not upheld in our lifetime, although I'll bet they will.

This knowing is the heartbeat of Wedstock and is what made the experience religious even for the non-religious. Freedom will do that to you.

For no one I met during the weekend experience of the weddings was the occasion a lark. I know many gay couples that chose not to get married.

Since some folks are struggling with the "definition" of marriage, I hope that people will now begin to talk about marriage and how that relates to two people taking care of one another in life.

The opposition has been, as usual, vulgar and boring in its arguments. You've heard those and I'm under no obligation to repeat them.

The question has also been raised; will Wedstock hurt Newsom's chances on the national political stage in the future? I think not. Ellen DeGeneres came out on television in 1997. One only has to look at how far we've come in the past seven years to imagine where we can go in the next.

Anyone who was part of them, or visited City Hall, or even drove past it during the weddings talks about how moving the experience was. It was a word I heard so often.

As images of not only the brides and grooms, but of the thousands of witnesses, friends, family members, volunteers, and loved ones continue to be emailed and broadcast to people all over the world, they too will be moved. By definition, they will be changed. These faces of love will change them and are probably among the few things that can.

The couples of Wedstock were already living together, already having babies, already members of the larger community - together. At long last the bus is moving

More about Wedstock!

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Copyright 2004 Hank Donat
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