Arlene Rusche (left) and her soon-to-be-wife Clara Brock at a marriage equality rally outside San Jose City Hall.
Arlene Rusche, 73, never expected to live long enough to have the option of legally marrying her partner.
“At my age, you begin to think you’re running out of time,” said the Santa Clara resident. “But then I heard the news and tears of joy just rolled down my face. Lots of tears. Then I turned to her, my partner, and I asked her, ‘Does this mean I can marry you now?’”
Rusche and her newly minted fiancé and partner of 22 years, 86-year-old Clara Brock, celebrated Wednesday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down DOMA and Prop. 8 at an evening rally outside San Jose’s City Hall.
The pair wore complementary pink button-down shirts emblazoned with blue-and-yellow stickers with an equal sign signifying marriage equality. Once married, they can share Brock’s military veteran medical coverage, just one of the nearly 1,200 federal rights previously denied same-sex couples under DOMA.
“It’s so hard to believe this has happened,” said Rusche. “I feel a special warmth today … our government is saying yes to our marriage as much as anybody else’s.”
About 300 people gathered in the downtown plaza, including politicians, community leaders, activists, gay couples who plan to tie the knot and gay couples who married when the California Supreme Court briefly allowed it back in 2008. Celebrants held up signs with messages like, “Keep calm and gay marry” and “Out and about.”
Like Rusche, many came with stories to tell about what how the court decisions affect their lives. Greg Belarus, President of the Billy DeFrank Center Board of Directors, says the morning’s news was intensely emotional.
“It was such a relief,” said Belarus, who worked tirelessly five years ago on the campaign against Prop. 8. “Especially after the disappointment of Prop. 8 winning years ago. It was such a setback.”
He found solace, however in Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom’s reminder Wednesday that civil rights often take decades to achieve.
“There’s still a long way to go,” said Belarus, who married his husband five summers ago before Prop. 8 won. “We have 36 more states that need to legalize same-sex marriage. The fight is not over.”
When Angella Tai, a local real estate agent and volunteer at the Billy DeFrank Center, kicked off the hour-and-a-half of speaking, her introduction was interrupted by the blaring honks passing cars, which the crowd met with cheers.
“That’s OK, keep cheering,” she exhorted the audience, many of whom showed up with pom-poms, painted faces and huge rainbow flags.
“I never thought I had equal rights,” she said, admitting she was too afraid to come out for a long time. “I was afraid to come out and be myself, to be a lesbian. But today, I heard the decision and started to cry because now I have the opportunity to marry the love of my life.”
Openly gay Mayor of Campbell Evan Low says the legal milestone resolves at least some of the ironic dilemmas he faces as an out-and-proud public figure.
“As an openly gay mayor, I can officially marry other people, but I cannot get married myself,” he said from the podium. “I can help organize a blood drive, but I can’t donate blood.”
And, he added, he can host a Boy Scout event, but if they ask was he ever a scout, he has to say no. Low, who was accosted last fall over his sexual orientation, encouraged the public to channel their enthusiasm and remember that there’s still a battle to wage.
“Let us not waste this energy,” he said. “Let’s register to vote … and recognize the straight allies who fought with you. Let’s take this opportunity to thank those that are straight but not narrow.”
Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Ken Yeager, who’s also openly gay, says he can’t wait until the county starts recognizing same-sex unions again.
“Every time I walk to my office, there’s a window where you go to get married,” he told the crowd. “I always thought there should be a sign there that said, ‘For straight people only.’ Well, that’s no longer the case. That marriage window is open for everyone.”
On July 25, when the county expects to accept same-sex marriage licenses, all 27 of those windows will be open for business, most of the staff working and, maybe, some volunteers called upon to deal with the pent-up demand.
The county is ready to offer marriage licenses as soon as legally possible to same-sex couples after the federal court rulings in favor of marriage equality.
Gov. Jerry Brown, who urged California’s 58 counties to prepare for the influx of same-sex marriage applications, which should be authorized sometime in the next month.
“I am thrilled that California has achieved marriage equality once again,” says Yeager, who officiated the weddings of the first gay and first lesbian couple when it was briefly legal on June 17, 2008.
The Clerk-Recorder’s office has already prepped for the surge of applicants by updating paperwork to include gender-neutral language (i.e. “first person” and “second person” instead of “bride” and “groom”).
There will be a new Express Marriage Ceremony Service starting July 1, where walk-in partners can buy a license to marry right there at the service window for $120.
Five years ago this month, when the California Supreme Court briefly legalized same-sex unions, more than 70 people volunteered to perform marriage ceremonies for dozens of couples.
Yeager and Supervisor David Cortese also sent memos to the county urging staff to ready themselves for a barrage of immigration help requests now that same-sex partners can apply for green cards.
More useful info from the county:
• Couples can apply for marriage licenses at the Clerk-Recorder’s Office at 70 W. Hedding St., first floor. (Free one hour parking in the West Wing parking lot at the corner of Hedding and San Pedro streets).
• The County of Santa Clara Clerk-Recorder’s Office currently performs civil marriage ceremonies officiated by deputy marriage commissioners appointed by the Clerk-Recorder. On average, 12 civil marriage ceremonies are performed on a daily basis.
• The fee for the ceremony is $79 and must be paid in person before the date of the ceremony.
• Marriage licenses can be issued the same day as the ceremony.
• A standard Marriage License is $79; Confidential Marriage License is $83.
• Ceremonies can be scheduled for weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3:40 p.m.
• Beginning July 1, walk-in couples who do not want to wait for an appointment will be accommodated through the new Express Marriage Ceremony Service. They may purchase a license to have their ceremony performed at the service window for a fee of $110, plus an additional witness fee of $10.
• The County has one wedding chapel for marriages, but will make two additional chapel facilities temporarily available to accommodate overflow. Up to 17 ceremonies per day could be performed at each chapel, if needed. The Wedding Chapel holds 22 people and is located on the Lower Level, 70 W. Hedding St., both elevator and stair access is available. (NOTE: The wedding chapel is in its final stages of remodeling. The ceremonies are currently at the Clerk-Recorder’s “designated” chapel on the first floor.)
• To schedule an appointment to be trained as a Deputy Marriage Commissioner to perform civil marriage ceremonies, call 408.299.5688.