San Francisco’s Family Night

Photo: Josh Harkinson

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The whole family came over. The bears and bois. The dykes and the daddies. The moms and the moms and the dads and the dads carrying their laughing kids on their shoulders and waving American flags. They marched by the thousands from San Francisco’s Castro district down Market Street, just like they have so many times before, in protest, in mourning, or in celebration, but always in stubborn defense of the same principle: that they deserve all the rights afforded to other Americans. And for the moment, the US court system agrees with them.

Though Judge Vaughn Walker’s landmark ruling in favor of marriage equality could be reversed by a higher court, it filled the Castro with a new sense of optimism. “It definitely marks an important milestone in gay civil rights,” said Nathan Oyler, 29, who was carrying a tuba as he marched towards City Hall with the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band. And so too for the Freedom Band, which first formed and marched down this street in 1978 to celebrate the election of gay-rights champion Harvey Milk to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. To commemorate today’s good news, Oyler was going to play Alabama’s “Hey Baby,” because, you know, “It’s a tuba solo.”

Other marchers sounded off on the victory in less dulcet tones. “It’s somewhat bittersweet to think about the discrimination and oppression that LGBT people continue to face,” said David Waggoner, the co-president of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, who was carrying a large cutout of Milk. A T-shirt worn by Miss Jane, a gray-headed civil rights activist, proclaimed: “So who can’t get married now, bitch!” And Christopher Mika, an artist in his 30s, carried a placard with an upside-down cross on it that read: “Eat it Christians!”

Many gays and lesbians remain angry at the Mormon church for covertly funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into passing Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriages that yesterday’s court ruling invalidated. Others see a chance to forgive the Mormons and teach tolerance. “For me, it’s very important that we build alliances with people of all faiths,” says Michael Leslie, an openly gay Christian minister. He and his partner were carrying a sign that read, “God is Love.”

“I don’t think that God cares” who we marry, said Sister Titania Humperpickle, a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a 31-year-old mock-religious order that counts 1150 members worldwide. She was wearing a nun’s habit, a coronet made from fabric patterned with pink flowers, and a goatee. Walker’s ruling “is a step towards looking beyond gender, race, and sexuality,” she added, “and I think it proves that it doesn’t matter how much money you have to buy a ballot vote, that eventually truth and justice win out.”

As night fell, the marchers gathered around the steps of City Hall—where Harvey Milk gave his first political speeches, where in 2004 San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom wagered his political career on marrying gay and lesbian couples, and where Aaron Peskin now whipped up the crowd. “We are standing on hallowed ground,” said the former president of the city Board of Supervisors. “This is where it all began. It began as a movement that fundamentally changed the city and changed America. They said that it couldn’t be done, but we have done it yet again.”


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