Pastor Karen Oliveto Reflects on Ten Year Anniversary of Gay Marriage in SF

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What a difference a decade makes!

Ten years ago today, I received a call from one of my parishioners who gave me the most surprising news: the City and County of San Francisco was issuing marriage licenses! He barely took a breath before informing me that he and his partner were on their way to City Hall and then asking if I would meet them there and marry them.

When I arrived at City Hall, it was as if I was stepping into a dream world: A line had begun to form as word got that legal marriage was now available to gay and lesbian couples. Gay couples, lesbian couples and straight couples were taking their places throughout the building to exchange vows. The joy in that building was overwhelming.

San Francisco was transformed during our “Winter of Love.” So many of our neighbors and friends were married. Many of the couples had been together for years, had even had civil and holy unions. Yet it was not until they received their marriage certificates that their relationships gained equal footing with straight couples: families who in the past referred to their son and his “friend” proudly claimed him now as a son-in-law. Co-workers who were indifferent after holy unions quickly put together wedding showers for newlyweds. It was clear that marriage was an important step in the long road to equality.

By the time that window of legal marriage was over in San Francisco, I had married 9 couples related to my congregation. I had the privilege of officiating at the first legal marriage between a gay couple to be performed in a United Methodist Church. Our congregation joined the rest of the City in celebrating the way the love between a couple spills out into the larger community to bless us all.

As a theologian, I couldn’t help but see God…EVERYWHERE. The scriptures tell us that “God is love, and love is of God.” With the amount of love that was celebrated in San Francisco during that brief legal window, God was simply busting out all over!

Not everyone saw it that way. I soon had an official ecclesial complaint filed against me, for performing the marriage in a church. Mayor Gavin Newsom was derided as a renegade. The rest of the country simply shook their heads, “Those crazy folks in San Francisco…”

Ten years later and the Defense of Marriage Act is dead. Marriages have resumed not only in San Francisco and California, but in states across the US, with the number of states offering marriage to all loving couples increasing exponentially. And a review of Gavin Newsom’s political record has changed from labelling him a renegade to a progressive, forward-thinking Democrat.

The complaint against me was dropped, but now other colleagues in other states bear the heavy burden of choosing to be a pastor to all their parishioners or obeying an unjust church law that forbids pastors from officiating at the weddings of their gay and lesbian parishioners. For me, it was and continues to be no contest: I will always choose the side of love, for that is where God resides.

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