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By Corrie M. Anders
"Love and Happiness" was the unmistakable theme in San Francisco last month as gays and lesbians from across California streamed to City Hall to take advantage of a state Supreme Court ruling that ended the ban on same-sex marriage.
In a special ceremony June 16, with Mayor Gavin Newsom officiating, longtime Duncan Street residents Del Martin, 87, and Phyllis Lyon, 83, were the first to marry and receive state sanction for their 55-year relationship.
On the following day, hundreds of couples spoke their vows as the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus serenaded them from the steps and chamber music wafted through the rotunda of the gilded Beaux Arts building. There were couples in formal bridal gowns with trains, and others wearing tuxedos with red roses in their lapels. Still others arrived in business suits or jeans. Some couples brought their children. Others brought their parents.
Many had signed domestic partnerships or civil union documents in the past. But on this occasion they were getting a "real" marriage license--the same legal document that heterosexual couples receive--and that prize spelled the end to a long struggle for equality.
Among the brides and grooms who walked into City Hall on the clear blue-sky morning of June 17 were many Noe Valleyans. Some shared their stories with the Voice.
Del Martin (left) and Phyllis Lyon exchange rings in the first officially sanctioned same-sex marriage ceremony on June 16. Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
Noe Valley Couples Celebrate June Weddings
James Harker & Paul Festa
James Harker, 31, couldn't stop smiling as he waited in line with equally cheerful partner Paul Festa, 38. "My entire family is here from Illinois," Harker said. Festa had the warm support of his mother, Linda Plack, executive vice president of the teachers' union in San Francisco.
Harker, a U.C. Berkeley graduate student in rhetoric, and Festa, a documentary filmmaker and novelist, have been partners for five years. Their lives together started after Harker read some of Festa's essays and contacted the author to discuss them.
This was the third same-sex ceremony for the 22nd Street couple, svelte in their dark dress suits. In June 2003, then Supervisor Gavin Newsom married the couple in a domestic partnership ceremony at City Hall, and then San Francisco Assessor Mabel Teng "married" them in the City Hall rotunda in February 2004.
Newsom performed the latest rituals in his office on June 17, 2008, the first full day that gay marriages were permitted in California.
"It was really thrilling," said Festa. "This is a personal event and it's also a political and historical event. To have our union recognized, not just by the City of San Francisco and State of California, but also by the man who had the courage and vision to push this civil rights issue to the forefront and make this happen was really special--and we really felt that."
The couple celebrated later in the evening with a "special party" at the home of Festa's mom. The honeymoon is on hold while Harker digs into his dissertation and Festa works on his novel.
Mark Hodgson & Sydney Levy
Mark Hodgson, 42, and Sydney Levy, 44, picked up their marriage license June 17, but plan to wait for a very special moment to tie the knot on their 18-year relationship.
"We're going to get married on 08-08-08 at eight minutes past eight" in the evening, said Levy. The couple specifically chose that time because the number eight signifies good luck and prosperity in some cultures.
Hodgson is a pastry and baking chef-instructor at City College of San Francisco. Levy is an executive at the Jewish Voice for Peace. The two met in New York in 1990 through mutual friends, and have lived on Clipper Street since 1994.
The couple say they have gotten "married a lot of times." In 1990, they were number 70 to receive domestic partnership papers in New York and signed domestic partnership papers in San Francisco on 01-01-01 at one minute past 1 p.m. They were married at City Hall in February 2004, only to see that union invalidated when the state Supreme Court nullified same-sex marriage.
"We don't need those pieces of paper. Our relationship is solid," said Levy, who opted for a casual shirt and pants for the trip to City Hall. "But we do need legal recognition of our relationship and protection of our rights.
"Finally, we are getting one that is real," Levy said. "We'll know that it is legal."
Melisa Kaye & Lisa Woodward
During their 15 years together, Melisa Kaye and Lisa Woodward have affixed their signatures to two domestic partners and two marriage documents in two different states. On a mezzanine overlooking the stately City Hall rotunda, the couple said their vows on June 17 for the fifth time.
"I pretty firmly believe that we're living history in a very profound way," said Kaye. "I've been 'out' for many, many years, but I never thought that I would see the day when couples could get married or be on TV and portrayed in a positive light."
Kaye, 45, a pediatric occupational therapist, wore a black, angle-length dress, adorned with a corsage of roses, lilacs, and baby's breath. A similar bouquet was pinned to the lapel of a stylish dark suit worn by Woodward, 44, a sound engineer.
The Eureka Street residents met through mutual friends. Winning legal acceptance has been a roller-coaster ride. Their scheduled appointment in 2004 to get married in San Francisco was thwarted by the state Supreme Court. Undeterred, they headed off to Oregon, where same-sex marriages were being performed.
"We got a flight to Portland at five in the morning and stood in line for six hours," only to learn that the marriages were going to be suspended. A reprieve came after someone "came out and said they would marry whoever was in line. We were legally married in Oregon--and then it was annulled several months later."
At City Hall on June 17, the couple finally received the state's legal blessing.
"I feel like it gives much stronger legal grounds to be each other's next of kin in case one of us gets ill or has financial difficulty," said Kaye. "I firmly believe that marriage is a union of two people who are committed to each other and that gender is immaterial."
Paul Stevens & Ron Weaver
Paul Stevens, 49, and Ron Weaver, 50, got married at City Hall for the second time, on Tuesday, June 17, 2008--the first full day same-sex couples were allowed to tie the knot in California.
"We wanted to do it again on the first day. We did it on the first day four years ago," the couple said. They had been among the first to get married when Mayor Gavin Newsom started the gay wedding revolution in February 2004.
"I feel like an immigrant who just got his citizenship," said Weaver, clearly delighted the long wait was over. The couple, elegant in dark suits and silver and lavender ties, said they were surprised and touched when a little girl came up and handed them daisy bouquets. "It was so sweet," said Stevens.
The Fountain Street residents met 17 years ago at their workplace, Kaiser Permanente in Marin County. Stevens is a physician and radiologist, and Weaver a nuclear medicine technician. They discovered then that they both lived in San Francisco, within a short distance of each another. Like many other things, Noe Valley was a shared passion. "We love it there," Stevens said.
Tony Paredes & Michael Gerber
Four years ago, Tony Paredes and Michael Gerber got married "on the spur of the moment" in the wave of euphoria over San Francisco's sanctioning of same-sex marriages--only to have the state invalidate their union.
So getting hitched again wasn't a difficult decision for the Alvarado Street couple, after the state Supreme Court overturned the ban on gay marriage this spring.
"Let's do it again," said Paredes, 43, and Gerber, 62. Both sported full, neatly trimmed beards and wore business suits, as a marriage commissioner pronounced them spouses for life at City Hall June 17.
"It's historic," said Gerber. "It gives us the opportunity to say this is who we are and this is who we love and society is sanctioning it."
They have been together for 13 years. The couple met in a South of Market bar, "and it went from there," said Gerber. "Believe me, we were very cautious. We dated for quite a while before we decided to live together."
Both men work in the field of engineering. Gerber is a recruiter of building engineers, while Paredes is an office manager for a firm that specializes in video and audio installations.
Richard Look & Curt Garman
Richard Look and Curt Garman first noticed each other at the top of Duncan Street near Diamond Heights Boulevard while Look was walking his black Labrador retriever, Max. "His dog introduced us," laughed Garman.
That was more then 15 years ago. The attraction was unmistakable, but the two men had recently ended long-term relationships with others. "Both of us were careful," said Look. "I'd almost say gun-shy."
Eventually, they eased into domestic partnership on Duncan Street. In June, after Look proposed to Garman, the couple exchanged marriage vows at City Hall. Betty Peskin, their Noe Valley neighbor, performed the service amidst all the spectacle June 17.
"She did a beautiful job. She took the standard vows and changed them to fit us," said Long. "She just made me cry."
The marriage has meaning on many levels.
"The change means that we have [a life] like every married couple. It's another way we can show our love and commitment for each other," said Garman.
Garman, 48, is an administrative assistant for Liberty Mutual Life Insurance. Look, 55, is an information systems engineer in the San Francisco Health Department. They now live in Novato after a fire destroyed their Duncan Street home five years ago.
As for a honeymoon, the couple says they hope to get away for a quiet celebration--perhaps a long weekend on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula.