For 18 years,
Stephen Weir has been in charge of the office that hands
out marriage licenses in California's ninth-largest county.
And for just as long, Weir has been unable to get a
license himself because the love of his life is a man.
The irony did not
bridesmaid, never the bride,'' he quips with a rueful smile.
So Weir hopes the
citizens of Contra Costa County understand if their
clerk-recorder invokes executive privilege and opens up for
business a little early on June 17, when same-sex
couples may be able to legally wed in California.
He and his
partner, John Hemm, want to be first at the counter that
day. They plan to be the first to exchange vows and
kisses in the conference room Weir converted into a
wedding chapel that hosts 1,200 couples a year, but
that he could never use.
''I've waited all
of this time to be able to walk into my own office and
stand in line and pay what used to be $64 and now is $85 to
buy a license and have a ceremony,'' says Weir, who
also is president of the state clerks association.
''It's a big
To understand how
exceptional it is for the 59-year-old Weir to bring his
personal needs into his professional life, it's helpful to
know what a precarious line he's had to tread during
35 years in city, state, and county politics.
He spent nine
years on the Concord city council, two of them as mayor,
but took pains to keep his sexual orientation a secret.
Concerned he would be outed as gay in the high-profile
position, he sought the county clerkship as ''a safer
place for me'' when the longtime clerk died.
Within months of
assuming the job, he had to oversee in his dual capacity
as registrar of voters the counting of local ballots cast
for a March 2000 initiative that strengthened
California's ban on gay marriage.
That same year,
when Weir and Hemm were getting serious, he started
taking Hemm to events where they would see other elected
officials. If his colleagues thought differently about
him afterward, they never let on, Weir says.
''I said to
myself, 'If he and I are going to be a couple, there is no
hiding this thing anymore,''' he says.
For the most
part, though, shouldering the contradictions he encountered
at work came easily for Weir, who has spent his whole life
in Contra Costa, a suburban county that is
conservative by San Francisco Bay area standards.
He is the
consummate civil servant, the type of administrator who
waxes poetic about document scanning software.
oath to perform his duties faithfully and according to the
law has put Weir in some awkward positions, however. Every
Valentine's Day for the last five years or so, gay men
and lesbians have gone to clerks' counters throughout
the country to request marriage licenses in a
coordinated act of protest.
Every year, Weir
has turned away those who showed up on his turf with a
polite apology and a referral to the state government Web
site where they could learn about registering as
domestic partners, a step he and Hemm took in 2003.
In the meantime,
Weir has officiated at about 20 weddings, mostly for
friends and relatives but occasionally for couples who come
to the clerk's office.
Two years ago, as
Valentine's Day was approaching, some of his fellow
clerks wanted their state association to put out a statement
supporting a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. It
fell to Weir, the group's president, to remind them
that their bylaws prohibited taking stands on
respectful, but I know it was hard because they were trying
to give me the legal rights I was seeking,'' he says.
Weir looks the
same way at his role in a pending ballot initiative that
would again make gay marriage illegal. County clerks are
responsible for verifying the signatures its sponsors
have gathered to qualify the measure for the November
ballot. He has stacks of petitions in his building
right now and a roomful of employees going through them.
''We are doing
that in an honorable way. We are discharging our duties as
clerk. I didn't ever think of it as anything other than a
petition in the queue. I can't let it,'' he says.
If voters pass
the amendment, it would overturn the California supreme
court's May 15 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in the
state. It could also, depending on the outcome of
further legal proceedings, invalidate the marriages
performed between now and then, including Weir and Hemm's.
possibility that Weir, who will be busy on November 4 making
sure his county's ballots are processed swiftly and
accurately during the high turnout presidential
election, can't even contemplate.
''Only after I
get that election to bed will I even begin to think about
the issues I'm concerned with personally,'' he says.
At home in
Concord, Weir plays the comic foil to the more outgoing
Hemm, 53, who works as a school crossing guard and
costume designer. Like most long-term couples, they
finish each other's sentences and happily share the
story of how they met in a San Francisco gym, drifted apart,
and then reconnected after nine years.
brought them cookies when they moved in to their
1950s-era ranch house and watch their pets when they are
''If you are
honest and yourself, there is no reason to feel like you are
out of line,'' Hemm says. ''If you don't carry that with
you, you don't see it in other people.''
would be the icing on the proverbial wedding cake, the
men say, something they hoped would happen in their
lifetimes, but the absence of which they did not let
diminish the delight they take in each other.
byproduct is that Weir should be able to get Hemm on his
long-term health plan. They already have stood by each other
in sickness and in health: Hemm has AIDS. (Lisa Leff,