Monday, May 05, 2008

(This continues the posting of chapters of The Brides of March. Sorry for the delay, I was caught up in Lego limbo--more on that later)

Goin’ to the Chapel and We’re Gonna Get Married

Duncan was quickly reassured, and assured us that it wasn’t that he was scared, or had doubts about our marrying that day, he just found the protesters incomprehensible. He couldn’t wrap his mind around their point of view; how could they believe as they did when the evidence was right in front of them that we were good people, that we only wanted to get married, just like anyone else?

Now the parents were worried. The words “San Diego” went through my mind, as the memory of a tear gas bomb thrown into the family section at a Pride Parade in San Diego years before made me even more aware of how vulnerable we were. The other moms took a moment to check in with their kids, assuring them they were safe and among friends, even if those guys with signs were telling us to go to hell. Jacob blew off the protesters with ease, calling them idiots, and the girls seemed to find it easier to block out the words than Duncan, telling us all they heard was noise.

We all knew it was time to rein in the kids, who had been using all their pent up energy, and all those donuts, by bursting into the only open space in front of the County Building entry, where the reporters were standing (when they weren’t moving out of the way of a leaping child). But now, too many strangers were passing through, it was time to keep them close, in case a silent protester was moving amid the crowd, waiting to do mischief.

Just when we’d gathered the kids, a woman brought noise-makers. She handed them out to the kids, telling them, “Drown those guys out!” This delighted the kids and stressed the adults, who, while jubilant, celebratory, and glad the kids were entertained, were still human beings with eardrums they were fond of. Graeme was not sure what he thought about all the shrill noise, but when Jacob gave him a noisemaker to hold, he was quite content, and gnawed it like a happy beaver.

Near nine o’clock, the people in line behind us became impatient and began pushing forward, while Sheriffs pushed us politely back, to clear the now-opened doors to the building, so that we were compactly sandwiched between the people behind and the traffic heading in and out of the building, like lesbian sardines and their small fry.

Most of the men and women entering the County Building were smiling as they snaked around us, weaving through reporters, supporters, and law enforcement. A few had the harassed look of someone who’d had to park blocks away wearing uncomfortable shoes, with no warning that any of this was going on, somehow missing the news on radio, television, or on the front page of the paper.

Even as the news conference about the decision to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples began inside the building at 9:00, we wondered if it would really happen, or if at the last moment, something would happen to snatch the possibility of marriage away: an injunction, a court order, a phone call from the Governor, a sudden loss of nerve by the County Commissioners who were risking so much for our right to marry. County sheriffs were becoming numerous on the steps of the building, keeping back the protesters, keeping the doors clear, and the media in line.

Graeme was getting restless. He’d been up for hours, and still wasn’t getting any “nummies,” our word for nursing. He didn’t know what the heck was going on, and looked around as if thinking, “This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful bed. Who are all these people, and why are they so loud?” He’d been bounced in the backpack, photographed endlessly, and was stiff with layers to protect him from the forty-two degree weather. He was struggling in my arms like a salmon dying to get upstream, so Jannine suggested I take him into the lobby—surely the county officials would understand the needs of a toddler?

While Jannine saw this as a solution, I saw this as a potential problem. If you allow one child some freedom, they’ll all want it. Reluctantly, I took him into the lobby. Anna asked to come. Duncan appeared with his D & D book. Katie slipped in to be with Anna. McKenzie and Jordyn followed, Ellen along as well, to look for a form to fill out. Jacob completed the mob, and Graeme had hardly enough room to breathe.

Our forms were filled out, and held tightly in Jannine’s hand as she gathered our things together in anticipation. We’d carefully filled out our license application, double-checking for accuracy, perplexed that both “bride” and “groom” sections had boxes to check indicating gender. Were these always there? Jannine had grabbed a form from the lobby, requesting the normal three-day waiting period before marriage be waived, when the door was opened at nine.
On our waiver application, under “reason for request” we wrote a long-winded explanation that boiled down to: since our kids were already out of school to share the wait in line, we wanted to get married the same day, so they wouldn’t miss any additional school. We hoped it had a nice responsible parent ring to it, when really we just didn’t want to miss the chance to marry.

Finally, it was time. We kept our kids close, swept Graeme up into my arms, and waded into the crowded building, a picture of happiness and hope that ended up on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer later that day. In Sunnyside, Washington, neighboring town to now infamous “Mad Cow” Mabton, Jannine’s grandfather saw us on his television, and called our home to tell us we were celebrities, and that maybe we could “give him a call” to let him know what was up in Portland. In Yakima, Jannine’s aunts and cousins had already heard about our imminent nuptials because Aunt Bunny got a call from her friend, Karen, saying she’d heard Jannine on the radio being interviewed. The news spread through the Eastern Washington grapevine and our e-mail in-baskets started to fill with copies of news clippings sent by supportive family.

Once in the building, our forms were checked for accuracy by Basic Rights Oregon volunteers who made sure we hadn’t altered any of the wording on the form, then we were escorted by a sheriff past the collected media to a county official, who told us where to stand in line for our license.

By then, we knew that two other couples had been issued licenses at the news conference: two professional, clean cut “poster couples,” one male, one female, chosen in advance by BRO, and offered up to the public as sacrificial lambs for same-sex marriage, to be pictured in every paper, Web site, and television news story for weeks to come. They didn’t have to wait in line all night, shivering inside layers of coats, scarves, and winter boots, and had relatives and friends on hand (which we all would have loved), but then again, we had an experience they didn’t get to have. There was a lot of love, support, celebration, and sense of community in that line. We were all so glad to be getting married at last.

Inside the licensing office, Bonnie Tinker and her partner, Sara, were given an enormous bouquet sent for the first couple to receive a license, the bicycle delivery man apparently unaware that two other couples already had licenses (or did the sender specify where to deliver them?), and were hustling out, we presumed, to get married that moment.

We were next, our dearest friends behind us, beaming support. The woman at the counter was helpful, smiling, and a little nervous; this was new to her, too. All the county employees seemed keyed up, but happy, as if everyone knew that this was a momentous occasion. Our clerk explained how we paid at the next window, and how the person officiating the marriage, the judge or minister, would sign and send in the form, where it would be put on the county record and that is what would make us married. She made sure we understood all the hoops we needed to jump through to make it legal. She showed us the frame-worthy symbolic license and the personalized congratulatory certificate from Diane Linn, the Chair of the Multnomah County Council, both now framed on our wall.

The clerk didn’t show us the family planning materials included, thinking we didn’t need them, though I occasionally joke that I am the only lesbian in history who needs to have her tubes tied, so easily do I become pregnant, and how willing I am to do so, given the chance.

Hardly believing it was true, that we held a marriage license in our hands, we went to the payment window, stopping just long enough to answer a European reporter who asked us how long we’d been together, the universal first question on this day of commitment. The clerk at this window took our sixty dollars cash, smiled, stamped us “paid,” and gave us our license back with congratulations. We held up the license; there were cheers and clapping. Terri shouted, “So you finally made an honest woman out of her!” to Jannine. We lingered a little, hoping to watch our friends get their licenses, but were urged toward the door by county officials, to keep the traffic flowing. Before we left the building, we saw Tom again, and said, “Marry us Tom!” “Gladly,” he replied, arranging to meet us and any of our friends and fellow Unitarians at the church by ten-thirty, if we could wait that long. License in hand, we could.

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