Saturday, May 17, 2008

(Another chapter of The Brides of March: Memoir of a Same-Sex Marriage)

Running the Gauntlet

We pushed open the glass doors of the Multnomah County Building, and someone shouted, “Show us your license!” We held it up and thunderous applause broke out from the hundreds of people there: waiting couples, supportive friends, journalists who couldn’t help themselves and a wave of understanding and love washed over us.

We were still in shock that this had really happened, a Bambi-in-the-headlights response to a miracle. A reporter stuck a microphone in our faces and asked, “How does it feel to have your license? Are you going off to get married?” as we were ushered by sheriffs to a clear space further down, where the muscular protester latched onto us, screaming so close we could feel his breath. Jannine and I ignored him, answered a couple of questions, then saw some of our friends emerge from the building, and cheered for them as they held their licenses up, Terri holding Marty’s hand in triumph, Chris grinning from ear to ear and already crying. The young lesbian with multi-colored hair who’d cheered us on through the morning came up to us and thanked us. “You are my inspiration! And I’m not even getting married,” she told us, “I don’t even have a girlfriend!”

We joined up with Marty and Terri, and Chris and Lisa to coordinate rides back home and to the Unitarian church. Our belongings were spread throughout our herd of vehicles: sleeping bags in one, port-a-potty in another, food, drink, and clothing scattered here and there.

As we broke through the crowd to the sidewalk, we were joined by a retinue of three who paced us step-by-step in a closely formed huddle: a reporter, a strong, silent Multnomah County sheriff, and the screaming protester. The sheriff said nothing, but the reporter walked backward in front of us for the entire block, telling the kids, “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Don’t listen to him. Your family is great. He’s an idiot…” because the protester was shrieking at us full volume, focusing on the children as he spewed, “How dare you bring these children to this filth? How dare you bring them to this place of sin? You are an abomination to God. God hates this, God hates this, God hates this!” The girls didn’t acknowledge his presence, instead they loudly planned a counter protest to tell the world how wonderful this day was, and Duncan looked steadily ahead, eager to be out of contact with this fanatic, whose spit was flying with his words. I covered Graeme’s ears to lessen the din, and didn’t make eye contact with him, a man who thought he was protecting children when really he was scaring them and giving good Christians a bad name.

At the corner, the protester turned back, the sheriff following him, and the reporter gave us a thumb’s up as we made our way to our cars, shaken.

Four of the kids and I hopped into Marty’s minivan, Terri and Jannine in ours, while Chris and Lisa climbed into our little Honda with their kids to drive it back to their house and pick up their own Sienna minivan. The streets were filling up with news vans from Seattle, and cars were parked bumper to bumper for streets, as gay men and lesbians queued up on three sides of the city block in their eagerness to legally commit. Terri ended up running back to say hello to friends, avoiding the protesters by going the long way past the hundreds of waiting couples. She told Jannine it was like being a celebrity at the Academy Awards; she’d forgotten to leave the marriage license in the van, it was still in her hand, and couples cheered as she passed, asked her questions, shouted congratulations, and smiled from ear to ear.

By the end of the day, over four hundred couples received licenses and Multnomah County made twenty-five thousand dollars. The highest number of licenses on any previous day was sixty.

As Marty started up the van, the protesters were already forgotten. We were excited beyond belief, incredulous that after waiting so long, it had happened so fast.

I really needed another Diet Coke.

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