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Riding at the Front of the Bus

Just over four years ago, in front of family and friends and a few surprised tourists, Sandy and I were married at San Francisco City Hall.The ceremony

Our marriage was eventually declared invalid, and the recent ruling in California won’t change that. We can get married again in California (or Massachusetts, or Canada), and probably will, though Florida doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages and is trying to stop them from ever being recognized, and California’s voters are headed to the ballot box to try to change the state constitution.

You might wonder why we would even bother doing this again, since so few states recognize same-sex marriages, and it could get undone, etcetera, and it boils down to this:

It’s different at the front of the bus.

No matter what, when you commit to riding at the front of the bus, and then you actually do it, you will be changed for life. Maybe next time, you won’t get to ride at the front of the bus, and maybe even as you’re riding up front people will be trying to push you to the back, but you’re still on that bus, at least for that one ride, and from that point on you see yourself differently.

As I wrote in “The Outlaw Bride” (an essay about our experience which will appear in the next issue of Ninth Letter, published by the University of Illinois), “Our marriage could be invalidated, but the mischief had been done: I no longer saw us as people who could not or should not marry.”

The state can take away our right to marry (or in the case of most states, never offer it), and it can declare our wedding licenses invalid, and it can even accuse us of ruining it for everyone else (which is the gist of Florida’s anti-marriage initiative), but it can’t take away our experiences. Once you see yourself as equal, that clock won’t turn backwards.

If you are reading this and wondering what you can do to put everyone at the front of the bus, I recommend donating to Equality California, Equality Florida, or another human-rights organization. Give as much as you’d give if your same-sex friends were getting married and you were buying them a particularly nice wedding gift. Because I can’t think of a better present.

Posted on this day, other years:

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9 Comments

  1. Emily wrote:

    KGS – thank you for this post. I think it speaks to every person who holds dear the ideal of social justice. I never thought I would find a source of hope or bravery in the idea of mischief, but you’ve done it.

    Sunday, May 18, 2008 at 11:00 am | Permalink
  2. tayari wrote:

    I didn’t know you had an essay coming out in Ninth Letter! You should have told me so I can post it with the “good news” posts!

    Sunday, May 18, 2008 at 12:06 pm | Permalink
  3. Robin wrote:

    Karen-
    Excellent post. As part of another duo that joined you & Sandy in the SF “mischief,” I can also say it was a life-changing experience. My partner and I had been together for 12 years at the time and yet this added to our long-time joy. To receive the official state “annulment” later on impacted us in a way we couldn’t imagine, even though we knew it would happen. We hadn’t anticipated how much it would touch us.

    Now, like you, we wonder if we’ll be married again – in less of a rush and with more than my wonderful brother-in-law around for the ceremony. At least this time, my brother-in-law won’t have to stand and sleep in line through 12 hours of pouring rain so we could get our number and be married before the ceremonies were stopped. (It was his “wedding gift” to us so we could sleep at home and show up less drenched for our 5 minutes of glee.)

    You’re so right – it *is* different at the front of the bus (or any other seat of our *choosing*). And while our families were a bit confused by our “statement” of four years ago, in the last few days each have called to ask when we’re “really getting married.” Even in accepting, loving extended families, the brief ceremony of 4 years ago had an impact. And they want us to have our place back at the front of the bus…

    Thanks for the eloquent reminder of why we participated in the mischief in 2004 and why even after 16 years together, we’ll probably do it again.

    Robin

    Sunday, May 18, 2008 at 3:11 pm | Permalink
  4. Karen, thanks for this post and for the pointer to your post on Mar. 6, 2004. I now know that we have two things in common — our birth years and the year we both got married! I like your analogy of being at the front of the bus. That piece of paper changes how you see the road ahead. The ride is also different at the front of the bus.

    I look forward to photos from your next ceremony.

    Sunday, May 18, 2008 at 3:26 pm | Permalink
  5. Jill, amen, you can SEE from the front of the bus, can’t you–and it almost feels like you’re driving!

    Tayari, this is terrible but I have had a bad case of “writer’s superstition.” Even with a signed contract from Ninth Letter, I was waiting for someone to tell me it was all a mistake!

    Robin, I really hope you get to read my essay. In the beginning I do my best to capture the feeling of that experience — the people standing on line, the giddyness, the way City Hall felt. (Bravo Gavin, bravo sir.)

    Sunday, May 18, 2008 at 6:09 pm | Permalink
  6. Nathan wrote:

    Walt is addressing this issue to, and I’ve played the contrarian voice there:

    http://walt.lishost.org/2008/05/i-still-dont-understand/

    Karen, thanks for posting so honestly about your experiences. As someone with a different perspective, I know I can’t get in your skin, but every little bit of writing like this certainly helps.

    Thank you,
    Nathan

    Monday, May 19, 2008 at 12:04 pm | Permalink
  7. Dinah PHillips wrote:

    You and Sandy have an open invitation to come get married in beautiful Santa Cruz. We have our guest room back, so ya’ll come!

    Monday, May 19, 2008 at 2:41 pm | Permalink
  8. Anne wrote:

    Front of the Bus. I like that phrase very much. And I ditto the wanting to see the new photos. How many people get married to the same soul twice without having to go through a painful divorce inbetween?

    A blessing in two ways!

    Monday, May 19, 2008 at 11:29 pm | Permalink
  9. KRin wrote:

    I just wanted to say I support same sex marriages even though I don’t want to be in one! It’s just as silly here in Australia. In some state it’s recognised, while in others it’s shuned. I do know there have been changes in the superannuation laws so your partner can now get your superannuation. Small steps towards the front of that bus.

    Thursday, May 22, 2008 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

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