A Song of Ascents:
The News from San Francisco

Sarah Lefton

My friend just called with a Shabbat story, a living song of ascents: A lesbian Jewish couple has been waiting in line, slowly ascending the steps to the promised land - San Francisco's City Hall. Like thousands of others this week, they are waiting to get married - and they got in line at 3:30 AM. They were just told that they will be the last couple to be married today. So what did they do? They gave up their place in line for the couple behind them, who'd been waiting almost as long...with their two little daughters.

We're calling them the "mitzvah girls."

* * *

San Francisco is wild with love and marriage. I live in the Castro, the historical and geographical center of the local gay community. This week, the streets have been cruised by cars with soaped JUST MARRIED messages in the windows, the bars have been packed with celebrations and the flower shops are decimated. Does Your Mother Know?, a sex toy shop on 18th street is selling wedding bands. The one-hour photo store is making wedding prints. I'm not sure I believe in the myth of the promiscuous, commitment-phobic gay man anymore after this week. Best of all, I found ads for wedding planners posted in the bathrooms at the Lex, the dyke bar on 19th:

"In honor of this historic event I would like to offer my services at a reduced rate...I can assist you with last-minute referrals to photographers, florists, etc."

Lucky for you if the florists have any time. A nationwide Internet campaign raised 9,000 dollars in a couple of days to send flowers to random gay couples waiting in line to be married. There is a huge table of arrangements inside City Hall as well, wreaths and bouquets and picture frames. But San Francisco is nothing if not tasteful. I'm scared what might happen when they run out of calla lillies.

Okay, to be fair, not everyone's knee deep in blue garters and white roses. Overheard at Café Flore (otherwise known as Café Floorshow) this morning - one leather daddy yelling "Fuck marriage!" over his latte.

* * *

I'm a single straight woman living in Gay Disneyland. On my way to the streetcar every day I see bulging, breathless posters advertising Club Papi, Trannyshack, the Fairy Butch Ho-Down, a dozen different phone sex lines and the lowest, factory-direct prices on buttplugs and lube. The amusing part is that I'm used to it all, content with being far away from Walgreens because I know that I can always pick up condoms at the corner Rock Hard store.

Gay sex is a yawn. Thank God for gay marriage. Most gay couples I know have been together for years, and in fact most of the marriages at City Hall have been between long-term partners. These are people who can now wear a ring on their left hand like the rest of married Americans, who can start lining up to legally adopt their own children, get health benefits, visit their spouses in the hospital, and feel like ordinary, loving couples.

I may be straight and single but I will be proud to be married someday under the same rotunda that hosted my friends' revolutionary weddings.

* * *

Visitors to San Francisco's City Hall are struck by its imposing Beaux Arts elegance. The blue and gold trim is visible from most points in the city, and its rotunda, the fifth largest dome in the world, sits above a sweeping marble staircase that "makes a natural stage for brides," according to pamphlets in the County Clerk's office.

Here and there, up and down the staircase, on a little balcony, little gatherings of couples, officiates and witnesses dot the room. Everyone's at a different point in the wedding ceremony, and waves of wedding language wash over you at different moments. Over here, it's "today we are gathered," and over there it's "I do." Tourists are snapping photos and excited volunteers stand around, hoping to serve as witnesses for couples who arrive without any.

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Image: Raphael Perez
(see next page for bio)

March 2004

Passion and Violence
Jay Michaelson

A Song of Ascents:
The News from San Francisco
Sarah Lefton

Bush the Exception
Samuel Hayim Brody

The Wrong Half
Margaret Mackenzie Schwartz

God Had a Controlling Interest
Hal Sirowitz

Eliezer Sobel

Josh hosts a party
Josh Ring

Our 450 Back Pages

David Stromberg

Zeek in Print
Winter 2003-2004 issue now on sale!

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From previous issues:

The Ritual of Family Photography
Amy Datsko

Knowledge, Community, Irony, and Love
Jay Michaelson

More than This
Dan Friedman