"It was a surprise to us. We didn't have a clue that it was happening," says Charles Metz, organizer of the commitment ceremony slated for the June 15 Sonoma County Pride gathering. Metz's surprise was the May 15 California Supreme Court ruling that a ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional and that gays and lesbians have a "fundamental right to marry" that deserves "respect and dignity."
Not being one to tarry, Metz immediately contacted Sonoma County Clerk Janice Atkinson and invited her and her staff to come up to the Pride event to hand out marriage licenses and literature and, most importantly, to take wedding appointments. "I told her that it would be a lot easier to answer questions by 300 people coming up to a booth than getting 300 phone calls," Metz chuckles. "Sometimes the wheels of government move slowly, but [Atkinson] has been very supportive and excited, as are we."
Not only is Atkinson taking her own personal time on Sunday to provide literature and information, she and her staff are planning to work late every day in June, keeping the Clerk's office open until 8pm beginning on June 16; at 5:01pm on that day, gays and lesbians can legally marry in California. "This certainly is a historic decision, and we're about to enter into new waters here," Atkinson says. The office is also opening all day on Saturday, June 21, to accommodate lovebirds. "There are a lot of people who have been waiting a long time," she says, warning that while her office will try to accommodate walk-ins, an appointment is hugely recommended.
An initiative to amend the state constitution to forever ban gay marriages in California qualified for the November ballot in early June. "That doesn't stop people from loving each other," Metz says. "Whatever people think, whatever society says, it doesn't stop what two people feel, and makes events like this even more important and special, not only to our community but to the community at large."
Noting that this year's theme is "Loving Self, Loving Others," he sighs. "As LGBT people, we've had to learn to love ourselves sometimes to the disappointment of those we care about. When we are able to love ourselves, it gives us a wonderful capacity to love those around us. That's the direction our country and our people need to go."
The culmination of a weeklong celebration, the Sonoma County Pride event is slated for Sunday, June 15, at the Wells Fargo Center. 50 Mark West Springs Road. Noon to 5pm; commitment ceremony, 3pm. Free. [ http://www.sonomacountypride.org ]www.sonomacountypride.org.