When we talk about Proposition 8, the right to marry, right to privacy and full faith and credit clause, it all becomes abstract very fast. Yesterday, I fully realized for the first time how concrete and personal getting married really is. Yesterday, Jeff and I went to get our marriage license. Just last year, it would have never occurred to me that we would be doing this anytime soon. There are a surprisingly small number of offices in Los Angeles County where you can get a license and the most convenient location for us was the Beverly Hills Municipal Court. Although I had studied the registrar’s webpage, it was still unclear to me what the actual experience would be like. We had even completed the online registration so we didn’t need to scribble everything onto a piece of paper. Which by the way is a huge time saver. The online registration which takes only a few minutes to complete saved us more than an hour of waiting time.
So we figured out on MapQuest where we had to go, Jeff took off early from work on Friday and we headed for Beverly Hills. Street parking wasn’t hard to find and the courthouse, built in the unfortunate stile of administrative buildings from the 60s and 70s was really hard to miss. Past the mandatory metal detectors one of the security guards, noticing my vain attempt to get oriented, asked us where we needed to go. My response: “We are here to get a marriage license!” was received with no surprise at all, why I would discover in just a few moments. The guard pointed us down the hall to a set of windows in your typical government hallway, charmless, functional, and slightly dingy, just next to the Sheriff Station. That was the permanent installation. Apparently recent additions were the stanchions directing traffic so that couples waiting in line would not block the elevators to the rest of the building. We got the idea that this office has recently seen much more traffic than they were used to.
We got there about 20 minutes after they windows opened in the afternoon. Waiting in front of us were six gay couples, a lesbian couple and a lone straight couple. Jeff quipped: “Look they let straight people in!” So they did. We certainly wouldn’t have to worry about raising eyebrows here. It also explains the total lack of surprise from the security guard. We still weren’t sure how long this would take. With two windows open the line moved pretty slowly. But we were busy trying to figure out how the process worked and soon people started to take pictures of each other. Getting the sign above the window into the frame was a common request. We didn’t want to miss out on this either as you see in the picture. Those who had chosen to complete the application on paper right there were told that their license would be ready in about 45 minutes and that they would have to “rejoin the line” when they were called. By that time the line had grown to probably another 45 minutes wait. At that point we feared we had to spend the afternoon there and Jeff’s food tank was running low. Another couple ahead of us decided to come back another day to pick up the license.
When it was our turn, we found that because we had completed the application online all we had to do is write a check for $70 and the clerk could print our license on the spot. We were told to check that all information was correct. Then is was time to raise our right hands together and “to affirm that all this information on the application was true and correct.” Then we got to sign two copies of the license. The clerk put it all in an envelope for us, reminded us that the license was good for 90 days, admonished us to only complete it in black ink and not to use whiteout or erasers, and we were done. By that time my level of excitement had reached the happy puppy with a new toy point, I think to Jeff’s slight embarrassment. Well, I was going to skip down the steps of the courthouse no matter what. Jeff’s a pretty good sports about it, even if he gets happy more on the inside at these times.
In spite of my bubbliness, I had a good look at the long line that had gathered while we waited. By now most of them were straight couples and there was the typical cross section of LA. Asian, White, African American, Latino, matching pairs or mixed just as love would find her targets. Many of them had small children with them and occasionally a friend. There was so much hope in this line, hope blooming for the first time or hope for a new beginning. Young and old, everyone was lining up to affirm their commitment to their families. For the first time I felt we were truly part of this and I just got a little taste of what it might be like to never have to question whether you love the kind of people society approves of.
Sixty years after the California Supreme Court overturned the ban on interracial marriages we still see the meaning of marriage evolve and adapt to changing and emerging values. What I believe has not changed and still brings couples together is their commitment to each other, their desire to be recognized by their families and society at large as loving partners, to care for each other and from that foundation help this nation as a whole grow stronger and more loving.