2/13/2009

Wow! What a Day!

It's taken me this long to finally gather my thoughts about what went on yesterday at the Pima County Superior Courthouse here in Tucson.

It was supposed to be just a run of the mill Freedom to Marry Protest. Michael and I had agreed to be the couple to ask for a license and be denied. Because we offered to do the event it was the first year that it was held here in Tucson.

So, this morning we headed downtown to meet Denise Heap of Marriage Equality USA. Because the gem and mineral show is in town Michael had to park blocks away but let me out at the courthouse to find Denise.

I finally located them at the old courthouse nextdoor and we trooped to the Superior Court Building with Rainbow Flags flying. Upon arriving we found a few videographers from local TV and a pair of very nice young women working on a project for the University of Arizona.

Before going in I gave my first interview to the UA students outlining the reasons for marriage equality and why we were doing the event. I also gave them background on our relationship.

After I finished Denise approached me and said that two women had arrived and asked to take part. Since Michael and I were the "designated" couple I could say whether I minded if they joined at the last minute or not. I figured the more the merrier so we all trooped into the courthouse with some of the supporters with us.

Immediately the cops seemed to get edgy. They ordered one of the people who was holding a fabric pinwheel to get outside for carrying "protest symbols" - nevermind we were all wearing Marriage Equality USA stickers and the new "white ribbons" to symbolize marriage equality.

After making it through the metal detectors and being told we could not use cellphones or cellphone cameras inside, we moved to the clerk's offices just to the left of the entrance.

Once inside Sheri and Theresa immediately took a number and picked up a form. We got a form but then realized the courthouse didn't provide pens, we had to send John Mijak outside to find someone with a pen to fill in the form. Meanwhile, the women had been called to a window and were busy filling out their form in front of the clerk.

When I initially filled out the form I scratched out "female" in the pre-printed place for Bride. We then completed the form and our number was called and we went to another, young male, clerk. He looked at the form and said he couldn't accept it because of the scratch out. I asked him if he would accept it knowing we were both men if I didn't scratch it out. He hesitated and seemed a little unsure how to answer so I sent Michael back to the rack of forms to get a new application. I then began to fill it out again at which time he said "You know you have to take an oath." I asked what the oath entailed and if it mentioned specifically that one of us was female. He told us it didn't say that in the oath but that by swearing the oath we were swearing that all information on the form was true. I asked him if that meant I was swearing I was female and he replied "yes."

So, at that point we were stuck. We couldn't see how to complete the form and swear the oath using the information this clerk had given us without committing perjury which is a felony in Arizona. So we thanked the young man for being a good sport and shook hands.

At that point I saw Sheri return to the rack to get another form. Waiting for them so we could all exit together I walked back over and stood near the door. One of the other people there whispered to me that the clerk was going to issue the license.

Needless to say, I was thunderstruck. I asked what they were doing and was told that they had done the same thing we had but then were told they could swear that only the "information [they] provided on the form was true." Since the "Male/Female" headings were pre-printed they were not swearing to the accuracy of that.

Looking out the door I noticed a large throng of police beginning to gather and taking interest in what we were doing. I asked one of the other people to go outside and tell Denise Heap who was coordinating the event that they might get the license so she could find out what to do. I also wanted her to be ready in case the police decided to do something because of our presence.

Finally, as it looked as though the women would get the license, Michael and I went outside in order to ask Denise what the next steps would be. At that point she asked us to go ahead and do an interview with the press as planned. So, I stepped up to the cameras and did my abbreviated "love will prevail" speech and the stuff about the 1138 rights.

Just as I finished Sheri and Theresa emerged from the courthouse with marriage license in hand! We cheered and applauded, each of us wondering just how legal this whole thing was going to be. After the obligatory interviews the women said they had to get back to work. They had stopped in on their lunch hour to make history!

While they were being interviewed and congratulated, a phalanx of cops appeared at the top of the stairs ordering everyone to get away from the steps of the courthouse (despite the steps wrapping around the whole courthouse). I later found out that while we were inside several had come outside and tried to run off the other people waiting by accusing them of being "ACORN Agitators" there to protest some property sale. This is despite the Rainbow flags and Marriage Equality signs and stickers. Regardless, these guys were really freaked out about us or anyone being at the courthouse yesterday and were quick to let you know it.

Michael, Denise, and I walked up the street to have lunch and discuss the events. By that time the national chapter of Marriage Equality USA was involved and legal experts were already weighing next steps. According to a family law expert the Pima marriage license application is non-binding because it asks for information (sex) that is not required by the actual statute that only asks for names and other indentifying information.

By the time lunch was over the ACLU and Lambda Legal were on board and by evening the legal gurus had expanded even further.

By the time I'd gotten home the Clerk of Court was already spinning her story. She was claiming the women had lied about one of them being male. It was obvious both were female and they specifically told the clerk that. I got a call from Denise who was on the side of the road fielding media inquiries asking me to call a reporter at the Arizona Daily Star and tell her what I'd seen and that Sheri and Theresa had not lied about their sex.

So, that was my day. I got a moment of fame at 5:00 while the TV folks were trying to sort out the story and get quotes from all the various people involved. By 6:00 they had their story cut together of the first Lesbian marriage license issued in Arizona and I was history and became one of the "two men who were denied a marriage license" because we'd "marked out" the sex. Nevermind that we tried the same thing Sheri and Theresa did but were told point blank by our clerk that we'd be committing perjury.

Anyway, this is going to be a really interesting thing to watch. If they can get the license itself upheld as valid and make sure Pima County doesn't go after Sheri and Theresa for perjury then all they have to do is get married and then the real battle will begin when the signed license is filed.

It's been a wild and wonderful day here in the Old Pueblo. I'm just pleased I was riding on that bus with Rosa Parks today. Way to go Sheri and Theresa!


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