A 'Tectonic' Day for Gay Couples

Tori, left, and Kate Kendall, who already share the same last name, celebrate their nuptials with their 5-month-old baby, Zadie.
Tori, left, and Kate Kendall, who already share the same last name, celebrate their nuptials with their 5-month-old baby, Zadie. (By David Mcnew -- Getty Images)
By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 18, 2008

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif., June 17 -- It was a lovely day for some nuptials. Blue skies. Rose petals. News helicopters.

Bakers handed out creamy cupcakes to several hundred couples waiting patiently in line. A lone protester in a devil's mask waved a sign that read: "Pervert Weddings Done Here." One of the grooms stopped, looked Beelzebub up and down, and snapped, "Nice costume." The mayor of West Hollywood, Jeff Prang, called the day "absolutely historic" and "truly tectonic" and "the culmination of millennia" of struggle.

There were some man tears.

Inside the city auditorium, people got marriage licenses. Each cost $70, cash, check or money order. Outside in a little park, in six tented white cabanas with boxes of tissues and mirrors for last-minute adjustments, people with licenses got married. That cost an extra $25. And as Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told the crowd, "Why not?" He explained, "I can say as an overt heterosexual, this doesn't bother me at all." Though of course it does bother some overt people, quite a lot. Come November, everybody will get to vote on it.

It was the first full day for same-sex couples to wed in California, and the City of West Hollywood (population 40,000 and one-third gay or lesbian, according to city officials) was enjoying its role as hostess. The city's public information officers were bustling about like wedding planners. "Okay," one barked, "now we go outside and do the champagne."

There were "celebrity couples," and the most famous was George Takei and his partner, Brad Altman. Takei played the helmsman Hikaru Sulu of the USS Enterprise on the classic "Star Trek" series. The couple wore suits and open shirts (Takei's was purple; Altman's blue). Altman also wore a touch of makeup, for the cameras. There were a lot of cameras, but Takei took Altman's hand and steered him through the jostling news crews like an old pro, the smiling, nodding veteran of countless sci-fi fantasy and comic book conventions.

"I don't want to call myself a Trekkie, but I did watch the show," Prang said, introducing them to the crowd. Takei said, "Isn't this a glorious California morning to make history?" Altman said, "This is the second happiest day of my life." Altman explained the happiest day will come in September when the couple are married at a ceremony at the Japanese American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles. "We'll have bagpipes," Altman said. "Imagine me in a kilt," Takei said. The couple will honeymoon at Machu Picchu. Today, they came to West Hollywood to get their license.

Takei gave Altman a squeeze, grinned and proclaimed, "May equality live long and prosper!" Then he raised his palm, his fingers splayed in the universally recognized Vulcan greeting, and the photographers went nuts. And there you go: the new face of gay marriage.

The advocates of same-sex union could do worse, as Takei proved. We heard him conducting interviews in English, Spanish and Japanese. But George, asked the crew from Real Gay TV, what will happen if the voters approve a constitutional amendment banning groom-groom marriage come November? "Be confident," Takei advised. "And be relaxed."

City Council member John Duran explained that it was tricky to get the mood just right. "We want every ceremony to be personal, intimate, spectacular and perfect. But they are also public. So there are compromises."

Like being filmed by a KTLA-TV camera crew?

"Exactly," Duran said. "But marriage is already a political act, isn't it? These days?"

Out on the lawn, the Rev. Dan Hooper, pastor of Hollywood Lutheran Church, was standing in the shade, wearing his black suit with the white collar. Hooper and his partner were married in San Francisco four years ago, when Mayor Gavin Newsom opened the door to same-sex union, before the California Supreme Court shut it -- and now opened it up again. Hooper is ready to give it another go. "We're going to do a big fat gay church wedding in October on National Coming Out Day," he said. "My congregation demands it."

Henry Glowa, an attorney, and Norm Freed, a psychologist, were waiting to get their licenses. "We never thought this would happen in our lifetimes," Glowa said. "We are as excited to make a political statement as we are to make a personal commitment." He also said their family and friends keep asking where they plan to register. "Oh, Pottery Barn is just going to love this," Freed said.

At the wedding cabanas, Wendy Averill and Marilee France said their vows, with Councilman Duran officiating. "Every day is a honeymoon," said Averill, who has been with France 23 years. "Isn't life just fun?"

Duran said, "I'm going to need to keep hydrating."

In another tent, Joel Wilsey and John Sanchez tied the knot. The couple wore jeans and polo shirts that strained to contain their bodybuilder muscles. "I'm sorry," Wilsey said. "I'm just so happy." He was weeping. At the end of their I dos, they gave each other a G-rated kiss and hugged. "I'm all nervous," Wilsey told Sanchez. "I'm the blushing bride."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company