Remembering a Varanasi Valentine’s Day

Lisa Celebrates Court Decision
Our Friend Lisa Finklestein Celebrates Court Decision | Photo by

The California Supreme Court has taken a stand for equal rights and made same-sex marriage legal!

The Court ruled that Mayor Gavin Newsom was correct back on Valentine’s Day 2004 when he decided that marriage is a constitutional right for all couples. Do you remember when loving partners swarmed San Francisco’s city hall to take their vows? I found out about that first celebration in the pages of the Hindustan Times in Varanasi, India.

Lauren and I had just finished an outstanding dinner at a nondescript ‘family’ restaurant that evening above streets crowded with silk merchants, cows, and mourners. Valentine’s Day normally holds little significance for us except as a night to eat in and avoid the crowds. In 2004, February 14 was just another mind-blowing day on our adventure through India.

We were unaware that, across town, reactionary traditionalists were attacking young sweethearts for celebrating what amounts to a non-Hindu, western holiday. These assaults were front page news in the next day’s paper. The story about the anti-Valentine’s violence shocked us – a reminder about the cultural differences between home and India.

What really made us spill our milk chai was seeing news from our hometown. There were only a few foreign news articles, but one of them was about hundreds of homosexual couples getting wed in San Francisco. We couldn’t imagine what kind of party we were missing back home.

The debate over marriage has played a large role in our own decision-making. Lauren and I have been living together in San Francisco since 1998 and have felt committed to each other for many years. The arguments for same-sex marriage made us realize the benefits of getting the state’s approval (like being permitted to visit each other in the hospital). At the same time, we were loathe to reap rewards from a system that would deny the same rewards to our friends.

Eventually, we chose to get our marriage certificate, but opted to have a “hitchin’ party” instead of a “wedding”. The ceremony was performed in August, 2007 by our friend Dan, who got a one day deputization for the occasion.

Dan read from the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage there: “The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations.”

Some day, the wisdom of these words will become clear to everyone. Fundamentalists around the world will learn to live and let love.

Until then, as we travel around the world, Lauren and I will be proud to say we’re from California.