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← A love story | Irwin Keller | TEDxSonomaCounty

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Showing Revision 10 created 02/01/2020 by Leonardo Silva.

  1. Sometimes, the best way to overcome
    a limit is to reach beyond it,
  2. to grab hold of that reality
    and draw it back into the present moment,
  3. try it on,
  4. see how it fits.
  5. That’s what San Francisco mayor
    Gavin Newsom did
  6. on Valentine’s Day, 2004,
  7. when, without any particular legal basis,
  8. he announced that San Francisco
    would begin issuing marriage licenses
  9. to same-sex couples.
  10. It was a grand gesture,
    symbolic and photogenic.
  11. Now, I had always been
    mixed-emotioned about marriage.
  12. Not having access to it
    made it easy to be judgy about it,
  13. “It’s old-fashioned. It’s sexist!”
  14. My partner Oren and I
    were on the same page about this.
  15. We had registered as domestic partners
  16. for its slim bundle
    of coldly described rights,
  17. but we had never had a ceremony.
  18. That was too marriage-like,
  19. and we did not want
    to mimic an institution
  20. that did not want to have us.
  21. But the television coverage
    was compelling.
  22. (Laughter)
  23. And so were our friends -
  24. I mean, not compelling exactly -
  25. desperate!
  26. After two weeks of watching
    same-sex octogenarian couples
  27. standing in line in the rain,
  28. eating damp wedding cakes
    sent by out-of-state well-wishers -
  29. a spectacle of love
  30. that did more to change
    public attitudes about gay people
  31. than any campaign, litigation, legislation
    or protest in American history -
  32. our friends couldn’t stand it
    one minute longer.
  33. “You have to get married!
    It’s a historic moment!” they said,
  34. meaning, “I have to go to a gay wedding!
    It’s a historic moment.”
  35. (Laughter)
  36. Slowly, our resistance
    gave way to the romance of it.
  37. We decided to do it.
  38. I drove down to San Francisco City Hall.
  39. By this time, there were
    no more lines around the block;
  40. instead, there was
    a computerized appointment system.
  41. I took a deep breath
  42. and walked into the county clerk’s office.
  43. “I’d like a spot
    on the wedding docket, please.”
  44. “Sorry, we’re all booked up.”
  45. “All booked up?”
  46. “Yep! Next six weeks, booked solid.”
  47. “Hmm ...
  48. What about beyond that?”
  49. “Oh, wide open!”
  50. “Well, great! I’ll take
    one of those appointments.”
  51. “Sorry, we can only make appointments
    six weeks in advance.”
  52. (Laughter)
  53. “So I have to come here every day
  54. to try to get an appointment
    six weeks out?”
  55. “Uh-huh.”
  56. (Laughter)
  57. “Can I do this by phone or online?”
  58. “Sorry.”
  59. I gave up; clearly,
    the marrying life was not for me.
  60. (Laughter)
  61. I trudged a couple of blocks
    to a restaurant called Ananda Fuara
  62. to drown my sorrows
    in garlic-free vegetarian food.
  63. When I walked in, I saw
    my lawyer friend Jeff with his boyfriend.
  64. I told them how I’d been bested
    by the bureaucracy,
  65. then I sat down to order my lentil loaf.
  66. As I was raking up the last dry crumbs,
  67. (Laughter)
  68. Jeff appeared at the table.
  69. “Listen,” he said,
  70. “We have a wedding
    appointment for March 11,
  71. but the law is so up in the air.
  72. We’ve decided not to use it.
  73. We’d like you to have it.”
  74. “Did they mean it?”
  75. I didn’t want them giving up
    their shot at a wedding
  76. just to do a good turn for me.
  77. On the other hand,
    maybe they weren’t ready to commit.
  78. Maybe they had good reason for cold feet,
  79. and I was giving them
    an honorable way out.
  80. “Thank you.
  81. Yes.
  82. Thank you.”
  83. And we were off.
  84. We had less than two weeks
    to pull this thing together.
  85. It was impossible to get
    Oren’s parents over from Israel,
  86. or my sister from Japan.
  87. But my mother bought a plane ticket.
  88. We asked county supervisor
    and former stand-up comedy Tom Ammiano
  89. to officiate.
  90. We told our friends to cancel their plans.
  91. We organized hummus and cake
    for our celebration afterwards.
  92. We bought shirts.
  93. (Laughter)
  94. The day arrived.
  95. Breathless, we showed up at City Hall
    and met up with our entourage.
  96. Jeff was there too in order to verify
  97. that he was relinquishing
    his appointment to us.
  98. He and Oren and I took a deep breath,
  99. and walked into the county clerk’s office.
  100. "We are here to get married."
  101. "You have an appointment?"
  102. “I have an appointment,” said Jeff.
  103. “And I’m giving it to them.”
  104. “I’m giving it to them.”
  105. “I’m sorry, wedding appointments
    are not transferable.”
  106. (Laughter)
  107. "But that makes no sense.
    There’s no fraud here.
  108. He’s standing right here,
    saying it’s okay,
  109. and you already allotted
    the time for his wedding!”
  110. "Yeah, not transferable.”
  111. “No, but you don’t understand.
  112. My mother flew here from Chicago,
  113. Tom Ammiano is waiting in the rotunda.
  114. I have 31 people in the hall,
  115. and flowers!”
  116. I added flowers, pathetically,
  117. as if somehow flowers
    would tip the balance.
  118. (Laughter)
  119. “Not transferable ...”
  120. “What’s going on here?”
  121. It was Nancy Alfaro, the duly appointed
    San Francisco county clerk.
  122. “They don’t have an appointment.”
  123. I repeated my whole litany,
    including the flowers.
  124. “Go stand over there,” she said,
  125. pointing to a spot in the office
  126. that we quickly came to understand
    as the “problem couple pen.”
  127. (Laughter)
  128. We were not alone there.
  129. There was another "problem couple,"
  130. Nicole and Amita,
  131. two young African American lesbians,
  132. both deaf,
  133. who had driven up
    from Riverside to get married.
  134. They had an appointment,
  135. but they had not told City Hall
    they would need an interpreter.
  136. Hence, consignment to the pen.
  137. We smiled at each other
    and exchanged rudimentary pleasantries.
  138. I should tell you
    that as an undergraduate,
  139. I had taken a semester
    of American Sign Language.
  140. And in the intervening quarter century,
    I had never had cause to use it.
  141. (Laughter)
  142. But it was important to me
    to stay in practice,
  143. so I used to sign a little bit
    to myself a song on the radio
  144. or the newscast on TV.
  145. And in the process, I had begun
    to make up little signs ...
  146. (Laughter)
  147. for words that I didn’t know.
  148. (Laughter)
  149. I wasn’t signing
    with any real deaf people,
  150. so what was the harm?
  151. (Laughter)
  152. Except that over time,
    I began to lose track …
  153. (Laughter)
  154. of what signs I had learned
    and what I had invented.
  155. And so,
  156. when Nancy Alfaro would come over
  157. with an update about her search
    for an interpreter,
  158. I would translate this to them
    and then study their faces
  159. to determine if what I had just given them
    was information or gibberish.
  160. (Laughter)
  161. “You know how to sign?”
    Nancy Alfaro asked.
  162. “Oh, no. Just a little bit from college.”
  163. “Can you sign their wedding?”
  164. “Oh, no.”
  165. “I need you to sign their wedding.”
  166. “No, that would be a terrible mistake.”
  167. (Laughter)
  168. “Listen to me.
  169. I cannot send them home
    to Riverside today not married.
  170. You must do this.”
  171. I was about to object again,
  172. but the wind was taken out of me
    by Oren’s knuckle deep in my ribs.
  173. “What about our wedding?” he asked.
  174. “Your boyfriend signs theirs,
    then you can have yours.”
  175. (Laughter)
  176. (Laughter)
  177. Before I knew what was happening,
    I was whisked to a wedding chapel
  178. that could have only been designed
    by a civil servant.
  179. (Laughter)
  180. Nicole and Amita didn’t bring
    any friends with them,
  181. so my buddy Emily,
  182. a lawyer who had long been fighting
    the marriage fight,
  183. stepped up to be their witness
    and to take pictures.
  184. The officiant, some city functionary,
    pressed into overtime matrimonial duty,
  185. opened his script:
  186. “We are gathered here
    in the presence of these witnesses
  187. to join in matrimony Nicole and Amita.
  188. We are here with ... ” -
  189. point to Emily, point to self -
  190. “Unite in marriage you and you.”
  191. (Laughter)
  192. “The contract of marriage is most solemn.”
  193. “Marriage is important,”
  194. (Laughter)
  195. “and is not to be entered into lightly.”
  196. “Marriage is very important.”
  197. (Laughter)
  198. “But seriously and thoughtfully,
  199. with the full realization
    of its duties and obligations.”
  200. (Laughter)
  201. “Marriage is very, very important.”
  202. (Laughter)
  203. I spelled half the ceremony on my fingers.
  204. I watched frequent
    confusion on their faces
  205. give way to looks of love
    and joy between them.
  206. I was embarrassed
    about my ineloquent hands.
  207. On the other hand, Nicole and Amita
    did not need a lecture
  208. on the significance of marriage.
  209. Nobody getting married
    in San Francisco that month did.
  210. They kissed, we hugged them,
  211. Emily and I raced up the stairs
    to the rotunda balcony
  212. where we found Tom Ammiano,
    with Oren and our gang of people,
  213. ready to begin.
  214. “We are gathered here
    in the presence of these witnesses
  215. to join in matrimony Oren and Erwin,”
  216. the same script as I heard downstairs,
    that now I knew so well.
  217. We ran through the canned vows,
  218. and then we added words of our own,
  219. Hebrew from the Book of Ruth.
  220. (Hebrew)
  221. “Where you go, I will go.”
  222. (Hebrew)
  223. “Where you lodge, I will lodge.”
  224. (Hebrew)
  225. “Your people will be my people;
    and your God, my God.”
  226. (Hebrew)
  227. “And where you die, I will die,
  228. and there I will be buried.”
  229. We kissed, we ran downstairs
    to submit our paperwork,
  230. we waved goodbye to Nicole and Amita,
  231. who were two and a half minutes
    ahead of us in the wedding assembly line …
  232. (Laughter)
  233. We piled into the car
  234. my mother, my cousin,
  235. my husband, and I.
  236. We turned on the radio
    to hear the breaking news bulletin:
  237. the California Supreme Court
    had just halted the weddings.
  238. We canceled our celebration
    and went right to a protest march
  239. down Market Street.
  240. My mother held a sign
    that someone handed her, saying:
  241. “That’s my family.”
  242. Oren and I carried sheets
    of notebook paper
  243. on which we’d scribbled “Married Today.”
  244. A few months later,
    all of the weddings were invalidated.
  245. But in that time, something had happened.
  246. We had reached beyond a limit,
  247. a limit of law,
  248. a limit of language.
  249. We had grabbed that reality
    and drawn it back into the present moment
  250. and tried it on like a wedding tux,
  251. or a bridal veil.
  252. And we discovered
    that we liked how it fits.
  253. It took another four years
  254. before there was a legal window
    of opportunity for us to marry again,
  255. and then another seven years
  256. before the US Supreme Court
    made it the law of the land
  257. and we were able to exhale.
  258. It always seems strange to me,
  259. when people ask us
    how long we’ve been married,
  260. to say, “Nine years,”
  261. when we’ve been “us” for 23.
  262. But we will be the last generation
    with this disparity,
  263. with marriages that are icing
  264. on an already fine and fully baked cake.
  265. We are here,
  266. united
  267. in love.
  268. Marriage
  269. very, very …
  270. (Laughter)
  271. (American Sign Language) Important.
  272. Thank you.
  273. (Applause) (Cheering)