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Pre-Wedding Jitters for a Gay Couple

Krissy Clark

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Some businesses look forward to gay marriage
(E. Okobi)

We all know the connection between another bride, another June, and another sunny honeymoon. But that leaves out some important people -- the unsung heroes of June weekends. We're talking about the masters of red tape. The sorters of marriage license applications. The civil ceremony performers who make all those "I do's" legit. They are the county clerks -- and Weekend America's Krissy Clark wondered how they're holding up this month.

For at least one of them in Northern California, the diagnosis this weekend is exhaustion and the slightest case of something he never really thought he'd have -- his own pre-wedding jitters:


Contra Costa County is a quiet suburb outside of San Francisco, and as County Clerk it is Steve Weir's job to make stuff here official, in the eyes of the law. He issues birth certificates for Contra Costa's babies, ballots for Contra Costa's voters, and no matter how much two Contra Costans love each other, they can't get married until they have that little piece of paper-with a county seal and Steve Weir's digitized signature over it.

After 18 years in office, this job could become routine. Weir could be jaded. But he's not. "You're being given one of the highest honors given in your life, because someone has entrusted you to take a very special day and make it go right."

Weir has personally officiated 20 weddings. More than 37,000 marriage licenses have been issued under his watch. Marriage is one of his favorite parts of the job. But it comes with uncomfortable moments: Over the years, gay couples have come up to the counter and, as a form of protest, applied for a marriage licenses. Weir explains that it was his job to tell them no.

"I've told them under the laws of California it must be one man, and one woman." Then, with a smile, he would add: "But when it's legal, I'll be the first."

Even though Steve Weir is in the business of issuing marriage licenses, he could never get one himself, since he is in love with a man named John Hemm.

"Here's our little dog, Prince," Hemm says, showing me a picture of their backyard. He tells me their dog is the straightest man in Contra Costa County. "A couple could walk in and he won't have anything to do with the guy. It's all girls," Hemm laughs.

Hemm and Weir have been together for 18 years. They first met at a gym. "When he walked in," says Hemm, smiling at his boyfriend, "I looked at the other guys and said, 'This one's mine, don't touch him.' And he batted his big brown beautiful eyes, and that was it."

"That was it," Weir agrees. But at first, Weir kept their romance quiet. He had just won a seat on his city council, at age 30. He had ambitions to run for state legislature. He was afraid of what people in his suburban community would say about a gay politician. At one point, a newspaper almost outed him. Eventually, Weir came out on his own. Before he did, he left elected office and became County Clerk. He wanted less public scrutiny of his private life.

But the balance Weir had struck between his public, private, and professional lives all changed a few weeks ago, when the California Supreme Court ruled that County Clerks statewide must allow same sex couples to marry.

"I went, ' Uh-oh," Weir says. He realized that after telling his customers for years that he and his partner we're going to be the first same sex couples to be married in his county, it was finally time to make good on the promise. "So I called up John and I said, 'John, we're going to be the first.' And he said, 'OK.'"

In some ways marriage won't be such a big change for Weir and Hemm. As registered domestic partners, they already have some-not all-of the rights of married couples. But Hemm has AIDS, and while he is pretty healthy right now, if he falls ill he is not covered under Weir's long term disability insurance -- unless they are married. Plus, Weir had always hoped that someday, his relationship would be official in the eyes of the law he administers.

So this weekend, after a busy week at the office issuing marriage licenses to other folks, Weir is planning his own wedding, for June 17, the first day same sex marriages will be legal in California. Weir knows they'll be at the front of the line at the office that morning, because he has the keys to the office. His assistant will officiate the ceremony. The whole process should take about an hour.

When it comes to marriage, he has the bureaucratic part down pat. It is the other stuff he has to figure out.

"People who've gone through this have asked me, very politely, 'Steve, did you think about a bouquet? Steve, did you think about a cake?'" Actually, Weir and Hemm long ago bought two tuxedoed figurines to go on top of the cake, "but that was just our hope chest," Weir says. They never thought they'd really have a chance to use them. Hemm suggests that maybe they don't need a cake. "Twinkies," he laughs. "Twinkies."

Some parts of the wedding they can't plan for, though. They just learned that conservative pastor Fred Phelps -- known for his "God hates fags" protest signs -- will be flying in from his church in Kansas to protest their wedding. And this week, an initiative to ban gay marriage in California qualified for the November ballot. If it passes, the Weir-Hemm union might be nullified. Hemm will oversee that vote count in the fall. He says if the ban wins, that's democracy.

Hemm and Weir take me out to the park across the street from the County Clerk's office, where they plan to have the ceremony. So many friends have asked to come that the indoor makeshift chapel where Weir's staff usually marries folks is too small. "I'm thinking that the sun's coming up over there," Weir explains, pointing to the East side of the park. "And what we'll probably do is have a podium for the officiant here, and we'll come across that bridge."

As Weir talks about the wedding, a man walking by over hears him. "I got married right here," the man says. "Six months ago." He says crossed the same bridge with his bride. Weir congratulates him, and introduces himself. "I'm the County Clerk. You got married in our office," he says.

Then Weir introduces the man to his partner, John, and tells the man that they're getting married in this park too. "We've been waiting 18 years," Weir says, and now he's beaming. "I issue the licenses, and I do the ceremonies, and I couldn't cross that bridge. Well, we're going to cross that bridge on the 17th."

The man looks a little embarrassed. Then he reaches out to shake hands with Weir and Hemm. "That's great," the man says. "That's a great thing."

Comments

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  • By marlo huey

    From dekalb, IL, 06/28/2008

    May the Goddess of us all bless you in your joyous occasion. Take advantage of every moment you two have together. I should have - I didn't. Today, alzheimer's is tearing us apart. I grief for us and send rainbows to you.

    By Judy Hemm

    From Sacramento, CA, 06/19/2008

    It's me your twin just dropping in to Congratulations the both of You!! I'm so happy to of shared this most Special Day with you guys! I will always keep the memories so close to my heart just knowing how happy you guys are! love from your most prettiest twin ~ lol

    By steve weir

    From Concord, CA, 06/09/2008

    On behalf of John and myself, thanks for the good wishes! And, yes, two traditional wedding cakes!

    By Kate Parker

    From South Bend, IN, 06/07/2008

    Congratulations to you both! I can't wait for the day that LGBT people in all states can enjoy their wedding day without interference from small minded people.

    By Margaret Barr

    From South Lebanon, OH, 06/07/2008

    congrats to Steve and John! You know there are heterosexuals who think that gay folks getting married will somehow ruin "regular" marriage. I've been married for thirty years and at no time has the marriage of other people affected my marriage negatively. I'm sure that Steve and John's marriage won't bother me one bit.
    Congratulations to them both. (and tell them to get a REAL cake and not just twinkies!)
    Maggie in Ohio

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