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Calling a
New Army of Lovers

Calling a
New Army of Lovers


In California and beyond, we're marrying for love. Our time has come. We will not be denied.

Four years ago, when the mayor of San Francisco made history by marrying gay folks down at City Hall, his fellow Democrat Dianne Feinstein voiced her displeasure in no uncertain terms. "Too much, too fast, too soon," was the way she put it, and the ice water in her veins was almost audible. The senator's 26 years in the national spotlight had been launched by a homophobic assassin, yet she still found a quarter of a century "too soon" for the full establishment of gay civil rights.

How much more time had she needed, for God's sake? For years Feinstein had seen the full-blown horrors of AIDS and watched same-sex love in action -- sturdy, unwavering, unconditional love -- as LGBT families cared for the dying. She knew as well as anyone alive what we'd endured at the hands of a callous government and organized religious hatred. She had lived through Matthew Shepard's crucifixion and scores of other antigay atrocities. When exactly, I wondered, would it be convenient for her to stand up for a constituency that had consistently returned her to office?

Maupin (left) and Turner wed in Vancouver in February 2007. They plan to remarry in California.

The sad truth is that gay rights has always been the disposable card of liberal politics. The very fact of our existence is still "controversial" even to those who make a noise about being our friends. We're still the fly in the ointment, the "divisive issue" that can lose an election. Just look at the weak-kneed response from the Clinton and Obama camps when the California supreme court made its landmark decision overthrowing the ban on same-sex marriage. Both candidates hid behind a campaign spokesperson and both reaffirmed their "separate but equal" policies of civil unions, thereby assuming a stance that would keep them in comfy solidarity with John McCain come November. The problem, of course, was that California court had just ruled that separate was NOT equal and never would be, so Clinton and Obama both ended up looking like -- there's no other way to put this -- pussies. Faced with a major milestone in American civil rights, the Democratic contenders could offer neither congratulations nor condemnations. Like Dianne Feinstein four years earlier, they'd been completely upstaged by the decisive action of braver and wiser souls.

The night after the ruling was a record hot one for San Francisco, one of those freakish evenings when people stroll around in their shirtsleeves without fearing a nip in the air. My partner, Christopher, and I went down to the block party on Castro Street, joining hundreds of celebrants beneath the tribal totem of the Castro Theatre marquee. The sign had recently been repaired by the production team of Milk, the new Gus Van Sant movie about our hometown hero, so once again the letters of castro were blinking on one at a time, a reinvigorated chorus line of red and blue. The crowd--at least the early one--was middle-aged and mellow, high on the romance of what had just happened. One giddy elder, possibly high on something else, was flinging rice at everyone in sight.

Among the featured speakers that evening was Mark Leno, the ballsy queer assemblyman who led the fight for same-sex marriage in California, sometimes going head to head (surreally enough) with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mark and I have been friends for 30 years, ever since the days when Arnold was greasing up for beauty pageants and Mark was down at his sign shop on Geary Boulevard cranking out posters for No on 6, the opposition to the antigay Briggs Initiative. I'm sure other revelers were having similar flashbacks, memories of all the times we'd assembled on this very spot--this village green--for reasons of celebration or protest or mourning. It was bittersweet, to say the least. The rockiest of roads had finally brought us to this balmy evening of love, but so many of us, like Mark's beloved partner Doug Jackson, had not lived long enough to experience it.

My straight friends were delirious when they got the news of the court's decision, dashing off e-mails filled with wild congratulations and political gloating. We queers, I think, were a little more guarded in our joy, waiting for the other shoe to drop. We knew from bitter experience that a bold step forward usually precipitates some serious backsliding. We remember Bill Clinton's promise to lift the ban on gays in the military and how it morphed into "don't ask, don't tell." (As someone who lived in the South during the civil rights era, I'm acutely aware of how long it takes bigotry to sit down and shut up.) Even as we celebrated in the Castro that night the opponents of same-sex marriage were petitioning the court to postpone the issuance of licenses until November, when they planned to place an initiative on the ballot that would constitutionally limit marriage to one man and one woman. There would be nothing but chaos, they argued, when the state was forced to revoke all those vows.

You know what? Bring it on. Let's see exactly what it looks like when thousands of taxpaying Americans have their lifelong dream of a committed and recognized union snatched away by popular vote. I want to be on that honor roll, along with Ellen DeGeneres and George Takei and every other gay person, famous or otherwise, who values love above everything and is ready to fight for it. That's why Chris and I will be standing in line for our license at the first available opportunity--probably in San Francisco but maybe in some place like Fresno or Palmdale just for the sheer giddy thrill of it. (Our marriage last year in Vancouver was binding only in Canada and largely intended to express our devotion to each other and our impatience with our own Neanderthal government.)

The battle has largely been won, I think. The mean and tiny minds who've made it their mission to "defend marriage" have existed in every era and have always lost. They lost when black people were given the right to vote. They lost when women were finally enfranchised. They lost when the ban on interracial marriage was lifted. And in each of these instances they claimed with a righteous certainty to have God on their side, only to be roundly defeated by the abiding decency and good sense of the American people. Now we're in the midst of another seismic cultural shift, thanks to several generations of lesbians and gay men who've refused to live their lives in hiding. People know who we are now, and we're just not that scary anymore. The old bigots are dying off, and the young ones are learning, at the very least, to deny their homophobia. Our happy ending is finally in sight.


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