Wedding bells and Pride protests

rebecca@sfbg.com ; steve@sfbg.com

The city of San Francisco was a complete whirlwind from June 26 to June 30. First came the historic Supreme Court ruling that ended the ban on same-sex marriage in California and struck down the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act. The historic decision, handed down just before the city’s Pride festivities got underway and as a rare heat wave gripped the city, unleashed widespread celebration June 26, culminating with a rally and dance party in the streets of the Castro.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition of same-sex marriage, “is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.” According to the majority opinion, “DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state sanctioned marriages and make them unequal.”

Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Prop 8 case, was dismissed on standing due to the fact that the State of California refused to defend it in court. That meant the previous ruling invalidating Prop 8, by Judge Vaughan Walker and upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court, was upheld.

City Hall was totally packed at 7am when the Court convened, with hordes of journalists, gay and lesbian couples, and sign-wielding activists in the crowd. Cheers erupted when the decision was announced striking down DOMA. When the Prop 8 statement came down, the room went nuts.

“It feels good to have love triumph over ignorance,” said Mayor Ed Lee, who joined Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom in escorting a fragile Phyllis Lyon down the stairway. When Lyon married the late Del Martin, they became the first same-sex couple to get legally married in California in 2004.

“San Francisco is not a city of dreamers, but a city of doers,” Newsom said. “Here we don’t just tolerate diversity, we celebrate our diversity.” He thanked City Attorney Dennis Herrera and others who’d contributed to the fight to for marriage equality. “It’s people with a true commitment to equality that brought us here.”

When Herrera took the podium, he turned to Newsom, and said, “Now you can say, ‘Whether you like it or not!'” — a joking reference to Newsom’s same-sex marriage rallying cry, which some blamed for boosting the anti-same-sex marriage cause. “We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Gavin Newsom’s leadership,” Herrera continued. “I remember in 2004 when people were saying it was too fast, too soon, too much.” Herrera also pledged to continue the fight that began here in City Hall more than nine years ago: “We will not rest until we have marriage equality throughout this country.”

Later that afternoon, clergy from a variety of faiths including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and the Church of Latter Day Saints gathered on the steps of Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill for a buoyant press conference to celebrate the court’s rulings.

“For 20 years I’ve been marrying gay and lesbian couples, because in the eyes of God, that love and commitment was real, even when it wasn’t in the eyes of the state,” said Rabbi Michael Lerner of the Beyt Tikkun Synagogue. “We as religious people have to apologize to the gay community,” he added, for religious texts that gave opponents of gay marriage ammunition to advance an agenda of discrimination.

He added that the take-home message of the long fight for marriage equality is, “don’t be ‘realistic.’ Thank God the gay community vigorously fought for the right to be married — because they were not ‘realistic,’ the reality changed. Do not limit your vision to what the politicians and the media tell you is possible.”

Mitch Mayne introduced himself as “an openly gay, active Mormon,” which is significant since the Mormon Church was a major funder of Prop 8. He called it “one of the most un-Christlike things we have ever done as a religion,” but noted that the sordid affair had brought on “a mighty change in heart from inside the Mormon community, with greater tolerance than ever before,” with many Mormons going out and marching in solidary with gay and lesbian couples, he said.

Then on June 28, earlier than expected, the County Clerk started issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, plaintiffs in the case against Prop. 8, became the first of dozens of happy couples to be married at City Hall that evening, and the marriages continued in the days that followed.

And as if that weren’t enough excitement, it all happened before the weekend, when Pride festivities got underway. This year featured not only the official Pride parade and myriad performances, but also an “Alternative to Pride Parade,” signifying that a radical Pride-questioning movement has been reawakened in San Francisco.

“Have you had enough with the poor political choices of some community leaders that claim to represent you? Are you over the over-corporatizing of SF Pride? Or just tired of the same old events that don’t reflect who you are, and how you want to celebrate your queer pride?” organizers wrote in a statement announcing the event.

The parade itself, meanwhile, also featured some dissenters. The third annual Bradley Manning Support Network contingent swelled in ranks this year, due to the political maelstrom touched off when the Pride Board rescinded Manning’s appointment as Grand Marshal.

The Bradley Manning Support Network contingent attracted more than 2,000 supporters who marched to show solidarity with the openly gay whistleblower, comprising the largest non-corporate contingent in the Parade. Former military strategist Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked secret government documents known as the Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971, donned a pink boa and rode alongside his wife, Patricia, in a pick-up truck labeled “Bradley Manning Grand Marshal.” Patricia told the Bay Guardian, “There is something about the energy and triumph of this beautiful event … Just as the gays have made a tremendous difference with marriage, we have to do the same with wars and aggression” in U.S. foreign policy.

Pride’s legal counsel, Brooke Oliver — who resigned over the Pride Board’s handling of the Manning debacle — marched along with the Bradley Manning contingent. Bevan Dufty, former SF Supervisor and now the mayor’s point person on homelessness, stepped down as a Grand Marshal, also because of the Pride Board’s actions, but didn’t march with the contingent.

Nor were the Bradley Manning supporters the only protest contingent to take part in the parade. A group seized the opportunity to make a political statement by marching with a faux Google bus, an action meant to call attention to gentrification and evictions in San Francisco. They rented a white coach and covered it with signs printed up in a similar font to Google’s corporate logo, proclaiming: “Gentrification & Eviction Technologies (GET) OUT: Integrated Displacement and Cultural Erasure.”

Some trailed the faux Google bus with an 8-foot banner depicting a blown-up version of an Ellis Act evictions map. Others donned red droplets stamped with “evicted” to signify Google map markers, while a few toted suitcases to represent tenants who’d been sent packing. However, their ranks were thin in comparison with the parade contingents surrounding them, which included crowds of workers representing eBay, DropBox, and, of course, Google — the largest corporate contingent in the parade.

“The organizers of this anti-gentrification and displacement contingent are not ‘proud’ that folks are being kicked out of this city that was once their refuge,” organizers of the faux Google bus contingent wrote in a press statement. “The 2013 SF Homeless Count and Survey shows that 29 percent of the city’s homeless population is ‘LGB and other.’ The Castro is experiencing the highest number of evictions in the city. Meanwhile, the SF Pride Parade is becoming as gentrified as SF. This group is calling on Pride to remember its roots.”