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My day at the Courthouse…

Old Orange County CourthouseThey came from all parts to the brick and sandstone courthouse surrounded by lush green lawn on a full city block. The morning fog cleared just in time to see the ancient cannons out front before the doors were unlocked. It was a brilliant warm June day, strangely familiar, but it would prove to be unlike any previous day the imposing structure had hosted in it’s 107 years. Men and women from 20-something to 70-something. White, Black, Latino, and Asian. Of all socioeconomic levels. Some dressed rather formally.  Others in shorts and t-shirts. A few couples were there alone, but many brought family and friends. Mom, dad, grandma and kids were there to witness. Cute toddlers in tow. Eye-rolling teens texting and waiting to be done and get going wherever teens go these days. And, yes, a handful of heterosexual couples wondering what on earth was going on today.

Their life’s path led them to the Old OC Courthouse today, up the granite steps, past the sad handful of religious extremists into the Clerk-Recorder’s office to get married. Today – on day one.

Most struggled to keep their emotions under control, pretending it was just another day in their long journey together. A state-sanctioned recognition of what they had been living for years or decades. And yet there were small signs that they were barely managing to hold themselves together. A trembling hand reached to answer a ringing cell phone. A few endlessly repeated the steps they would go through as though cramming for a college exam. Teary outbursts in the midst of the ceremony were the norm.

Pair by pair they were married. Friends and family cheered. Strangers congratulated them. Most walked up the massive central stairway to the reception sponsored by the Gay and Lesbian Center of Orange County, surprised that people they had never met would take the time to offer them a place to enjoy some cake, toast them with sparkling cider, and most importantly provide a quiet place for the new couple and friends to sit for a few moments and let it all start to sink in. It was, more than anything else, a day about family.

I saw a young latina couple waiting in the parking lot for their relatives to all arrive.  They took a few final puffs of a cigarette and began to make their way through the short gauntlet of protesters with their little girl in her new red and white party dress. When the loudest sign-waver opened his mouth, they both turned on their heel, fingers waving in the air in unison. “Don’t you DARE try to mess with us on our day,” said one. “And do NOT address our daughter,” added the other. One bride’s mami and papi dressed in their Sunday best instinctively formed a circle to protect their daughter, her bride to be, and their granddaughter from the loudmouth. They glared back at the clown who wisely chose that moment to take a break from his ranting until this familia was at the courthouse door.

I met a proud mom fixing her handsome son’s hair and adjusting his tie in that universal act of unneeded maternal grooming before handing her boy off symbolically to his smiling partner. Son flashed a boyish grin at mom while she wiped away a tear and gave him a quick squeeze before sending him to the altar. No words were exchanged, but the actions were loud and clear.

I witnessed schoolkids excitedly signing translations to their deaf dad, thrilled to be helpful participants in the day.

One couple was turned away. Two guys in matching Hawaiian shirts and shorts were told they needed a valid government ID to marry. One gentleman was disabled did not have a current license. They went to the DMV, returned within an hour with the required paperwork in hand, and were wed without delay.

I met a chatty older woman who whispered to me that she voted for Proposition 22 before her son came out to her. And now she just wished there was some way she could take her vote back. How could anybody vote to take away her son’s right to marry the man he loved, she wondered aloud. How could anyone vote to take away her kid’s right to be happy? What gives these people the right to break her boy’s heart? I just nodded and listened.

These were but a handful of the people I met today at the courthouse. It was such an exciting day I couldn’t tear myself away until it was over. There are another dozen stories I could share with you. It was an amazing and powerful day. One I know I will never forget.

I am prouder today to be a Californian than I have ever been. My respect and admiration for the Justices of the State Supreme Court runs deeper than ever. And I know that with some education the voters will do what is right come November. Equality for All asks you to “Vow to Vote NO on the Marriage Ban!”

To feel a small part of this special day for so many is a unique privilege. Years of work on this issue changed lives starting this morning. Our work, done right, is capable of changing lives. IT CHANGES LIVES! Today I felt strongly connected to Dr. King, to Rosa Parks, to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and to Susan B. Anthony in their struggles to remove logic-defying barriers.

So when do we embark on the next great movement for equality of opportunity and civil rights? Sign me up today!


  1. Gus Ayer Gus Ayer June 18, 2008

    Thank you for this glorious and moving essay to describe this historic day in Orange County.

  2. demmother demmother June 18, 2008

    Well Done Ed! Tues. June 17, 2008 will go down as a Great Day in history and in our lives. Perhaps we have another ‘Summer of Love’.

  3. Chris M Chris M June 18, 2008

    well I hope they are happy

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