Bullets from the Revolution
Every year Bexar County offers free weddings on the courthouse steps at midnight on Valentine's Day. This tradition dates back to 1989, begun by Joe Sullivan, pastor of the non-denominational Little Church on the River and the All-Believers Chuch, both in San Antonio. A former Air Force Engineer, he has married over 8,000 people, most of them via his Valentine's Day specials. Last night he encountered something new. One of my best friends, and one of my heroes, John Dean Domingue, organized a passel of same-sex couples to attend, knowing, of course, they could not get licenses, but wanting to demonstrate their love for each other, and partake in a little specialness for Valentine's. They were instructed beforeheand that this was about love, and to not make a scene, not to hurt the joy and celebrations of the other couples who would be present. They had done this last year, but with fewer couples and less fanfare as i understand it. Things changed last night. About a dozen same-sex couples, intending to stand for marriage, lined up on the steps with perhaps 75 other couples. A similar contingent of same-sex couples were in the crowd in support. It was an exuberant and joyous crowd, with no tension that i could detect, a little tittering as folks began to understand what the crowd of folks with multi-colored balloons represented. But as i wandered through and about the crowd, playing the dutiful photographer, i did not hear one single word of ugliness or hatred from anyone in the crowd, period. I took a lot of pics of straight couples and mixed couples and same sex couples, and never did i detect any ugliness. Until Pastor Joe Sullivan took the microphone to address the crowd and marry the couples. First he tried to shoo the same-sex couples off the steps of the courthouse. Not a one budged, nor said anything, nor argued, nor raised a ruckus . . . nor did any of the straight couples, no one yelled, or shoved, or made a scene. Everyone just waited, arm in arm, hand in hand, all stripes and persuasions. Pastor Joe said several times that only God could marry people, people couldn't marry people, and that those were defying God and taking his name in vain by pledging themselves to marriage would face damnation . . . and then brought people right back into the equation by saying no one could get married without a county-issued license. And still these folks, every one, held their ground . . . peacefully, quietly. They were, quite simply, heroic. The more they looked at peace with themselves and each other, the more Pastor Joe condemned them. I cannot imagine a display more simultaneously ‘Christian’ and ‘un-Christian’ – that great, uniquely American conundrum brought vividly to life. Finally, he just dismissed the same-sex couples as damned, and went about his business of marrying, so sprinkled with bawdyish jokes and hints about the instability of marriage that one wonders if his training came in a nightclub. I don’t think anyone expected the ugliness – perhaps being asked to move, perhaps being told that it wasn’t legal, perhaps even being ‘teased’ by parts of the crowd, but the sheer meanness i think came as a surprise. And as badly as he attempted to ruin, perhaps did ruin, the night for the same-sex couples, i think he also ruined a beautiful night for everyone else, the families there to witness something beautiful, and the joy of the folks there for ‘legal’ weddings. It sure put a permanent damper on ‘my’ idea of the ‘sanctity’ of marriage, whatever that is. And then, it was over. As a consequence of the incitement by Pastor Joe, i expected some shouting matches to happen, some ugliness passed on by some of the straight folks who’d had their night crippled. And perhaps some of that went on, but i, again, didn’t hear a single word of it, and i felt i was in the mix enough to have heard it. A rumored ‘mass citizen’s arrest’ by a fundamentalist group didn’t materialize. During the bulk of the ceremony, and the crowd gathering leading up to it, almost an hour’s worth of everyone mingling, nary a single uniformed cop was present anywhere near the plaza. Likely there were some undercover folks watching and taking notes. Then in the last 15 minutes four cop cars appeared around the perimeter seemingly from nowhere, perhaps summoned by someone fearful of what may transpire after the rabble-rousing. But in the end, all was peaceful, cops bantered among themselves but i saw no one approached by any of them. Instead, everyone went on their way, enjoying their moments with families, posing for pictures in front of the fountain and the courthouse and San Fernando Cathedral . . . people kissing, holding hands, smiling . . . straight, gay, transgender. It was quite a beautiful Valentine’s mess of humanity. With the exception of one lone soul, the primary representative of the church in the plaza, all of San Antonio is worthy of a ton of congratulations for their constraint at minimum, their tolerance as well, but i think much more so for the love they exhibited on the one day we celebrate about love. There was an awful lot of love in that place last night, unfettered, it seems, by one man’s evil castigations. As John Dean pointed out in interviews ahead of the event, it’s appropriate that St. Valentine is a saint for having the temerity and courage to couple folks he was forbidden from marrying. Pastor Joe could learn something from that i suppose.
[pictures from the event to follow later this week]