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California Needs Gay Marriage–Now

Yesterday, my partner and I tried to get married in San Francisco. We naively assumed that if we showed up at 3 p.m., we’d stand in line for a little while and be married by 4 p.m. at the very latest.

We quickly discovered that hundreds of people were lined up to marry, including many who had been waiting since the previous day, some with small children. The few exceptions included a couple where one partner who had given birth hours earlier, stumbled into City Hall on the arms of her partner, then after the ceremony headed back to the hospital for postpartum care. Other people told us they had flown in from Minneapolis, New York, Washington State, and other places throughout the country. They were determined to wed, and Mayor Gavin Newsom had made this possible.

We stood in the rain with many other people, watching couples bound down the steps of City Hall. Sandy and I misted up. It was so moving, so beautiful–a truly spiritual experience.

Then a man next to us chatted about his experience as a volunteer that day.

“Volunteer?” I asked, and something in my left cranial lobe began whirring.

“Oh yes, the mayor deputized many people, who are working for free.”

I felt my brain shift into fourth gear, and a vein in my forehead began pulsing.

“How many people have been married so far?”

This was the kind of question that immediately stimulated everyone within ten feet to demonstrate his or her mathematical prowess by sheer guesswork. “Sixteen hundred!” “Five Thousand!” “Four hundred today!” “No, seven hundred!”

“That’s o.k.,” I said, “good enough.” I felt my eyes stinging with hot tears. Not over the lost chance to marry–we were both overcoming bad colds, and waiting overnight was impossible; this made us sad, but it didn’t make me cry. No, I wasn’t crying over the major strike for equality this event represented–although we were in the middle of a historical moment. I wasn’t even crying out of gratitude for Mayor Gavin Newsom, whose leadership on this issue is nothing short of brave and brilliant.

Instead, I felt myself weep over the three little words I, as an administrator, so love to hear:

“Local revenue stream.”

My heart thumping, I began doing the math. It’s only about $100 for a marriage license (good grief–no wonder people do this so casually–it costs more to register a car or a boat). But City Hall was cranking out over 100 marriages an hour, and though some staffing was required, they did deputize a lot of volunteers. Even at a conservative estimate of 2,000 marriages as of Monday night, that’s a gross of $200,000. After factoring in additional staff time and security requirements, plus the overhead of the requirements for the physical plant, City Hall would be lucky to break even on this special event. But that doesn’t include the additional tourism revenue, and I already read about the couple staying at the Fairmont all weekend.

Let’s assume gay marriage isn’t stopped in San Francisco. Presumably the marriage registrar’s office could handle the increased volume during regular office hours with, with additional staffing. Increase the license volume by 500-1000 licenses a week–and I don’t think that’s unrealistic, given the number of gay people in the United States–which could be as high as 29 million (ten percent of the total U.S. population). Even if it’s one percent of the population, and only one percent of that group comes to San Francisco over a period of a decade, that’s a lot of licenses, again, and that’s even before we get to rooms at the Fairmont or tables for ten at the Washbag.

Now I really admire Gavin Newsom. The Mayor is not only brave and righteous–he’s downright entrepreneurial!

Gay marriage is a tough question for many, and even I, out of empathy and compassion, believe we can’t turn our backs on those who “aren’t there yet” on this issue. Still, we in California need to come up with new and better ways to make ends meet. Every city in California is suffering badly right now. Every school, library, and fire station is scrambling to find ways to meet ends meet, and I don’t know of a single county in our state that is anticipating better times to come just yet.

This is an issue whose time has not only come, but whose arrival is in strictly pecuniary terms, highly timely. Any county or city government on the fence on this issue needs to factor in the revenue and ask if continued discrimination against marital rights for same-sex couples is worth the loss in revenues this opportunity presents.

Oakland, Richmond, Berkeley, San Rafael; Los Angeles, Mendocino, Eureka; every corner of this state needs to look at its checkbook and then ask itself, can it afford not to join Mayor Newsom in granting same-sex couples the right to wed?

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