Noe Valley Voice March 2004

This 'n' That

By Laura McHale Holland

It's rare indeed when a personal milestone becomes a societal milestone, but that's what happened for Castro Street residents Bill Hinson and Dan Johnson. Just three days after Mayor Gavin Newsom declared same-sex marriage legal, they tied the knot.

In the company of hundreds of other gay and lesbian couples, Hinson and Johnson stood in line to apply for a marriage license on Valentine's Day. Initially, it was outrage that spurred them to act.

"We got up on Saturday morning thinking how much we didn't appreciate President Bush's State of the Union address. We felt like there's a war going on, our economy is in a bad situation, our schools are going to hell in a handbag, and Bush is bringing up putting a lid on gay marriage. We wanted to make a strong statement by going down and getting our license," says Hinson.

Once they had the document in hand, however, the couple chose not to get married on the steps of City Hall. Both have strong religious beliefs, and they longed for a church wedding. Luckily, they saw their longtime pastor, Karen Oliveto, in the crowd, and with her they came up with a plan.

They exchanged vows the next day, Feb. 15, during the regular Sunday worship service at Bethany United Methodist Church at Clipper and Sanchez streets. Oliveto presided, with their church community bearing witness. Thus, they became the first same-sex couple ever to be legally married in a United Methodist church.

"Getting married by our own minister, under the eyes of God, and in front of the congregation that we love, made the ceremony more powerful than we expected," says Hinson, whose nickname is Wild Bill. "We've been together for 111/2 years, and initially we thought we would do this to protect each other, but instead it was a deeply meaningful ceremony with everybody cheering afterwards. We felt truly joined by the experience."

In addition to cheering Johnson and Hinson on, the congregation, which is approximately half gay and half straight, provided some traditional wedding trappings. "Some of the ladies at the church made our boutonnières--one yellow and one red rose with greenery attached--which we hadn't expected. We also didn't have any idea that after the ceremony there would be a cake in the next room that said, 'Congratulations, Wild Bill and Dan.' It was really neat," Hinson recalls.

With such short notice, there was no time for invitations, showers, rehearsals, or fancy halls to rent, but that didn't matter. They walked down the aisle hand in hand, pipe organ music playing in the background, and they exchanged rings with their vows, something they thought would not come together.

"I have a really huge finger size. It's a 12, and every place we went, they said they'd have to order one for me. Finally at Macy's we found an 111/2 that fit my finger. That was just before 9 p.m. We were about to get them from a bubble gum machine," Hinson laughs.

When the ceremony was over, Hinson, Johnson, and Oliveto met the press on the church steps. Later they were featured on Channel 7 (ABC), on CNN, and in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Hinson feels the exposure helped some people see the human face of their marriage, breaking down preconceived notions about same-sex relationships.

With the controversy raging about the legality of gay marriage, nobody knows how the issue will eventually be resolved. Hinson and Johnson also don't know how the broader Methodist community will come to terms with their marriage. "It's definitely not what the larger church is behind," says Johnson. "That's what we're trying to change."

In the meantime, the two are basking in the glow of their formal recognition as a family unit, with all of the rights that that brings. Since Hinson, a personal trainer, aerobics instructor, and massage therapist, has AIDS, and Johnson, a billing coordinator, is HIV-positive, they cherish their authority to act on one another's behalf, no matter what the situation. They hope it will last.


Castro Street resident Sandra Halladey may not have created as big a splash as Johnson and Hinson, but she also hopes to make waves in Washington, D.C. With Ken Rolling, she has written "Voices Closest to the Ones We Love," a piece that appears in a book titled Letters to the Next President, published in February by Teachers College Press. It is a collection of more than 30 letters that, Halladey says, "speak to the heart of public education, the future of American students, and the need for an educated and engaged citizenry."

The topic is dear to Halladey's heart. She is a co-founder and the associate director of Parents for Public Schools. Rolling is the organization's executive director. "We are a national organization that works to build a constituency of public support for public education, encourages public school enrollment, and brings in the voice of parents to school reform," she explains. She got involved because when the eldest of her two children started preschool she realized that "there was no organization encouraging people to go to public schools, no organization even helping with the application process," she recalls.

Actor/comedian Bill Cosby wrote the book's prologue, and the late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone wrote the epilogue. Other contributors include business and community leaders, top education experts, teachers, parents, school administrators, and students.

"There's a lot of talk about education reform that is coming from a right-wing agenda," says Halladey. "I don't think privatizing the public system is the way to improve what we have. There are many successes around the country. This book looks at things we can get a handle on, things we can really do to improve our schools. And as a layperson, I'm not going to read a 40-page essay by some think tank at a university, but I could quite easily have this book by my bedside and read a letter or two. It's very easily digestible," she says.

You can order Letters to the Next President locally from Cover to Cover Booksellers or through


By the time you read this, we'll be working on the April issue. Why not share some news that will inspire us as we ease into spring?

We're interested in all kinds of personal milestones, including new babies, weddings, academic and professional awards, anniversaries, graduations, and artistic achievements.

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