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Florence in Words

Wedding Day

Jorge Cao and Don Thomas on their wedding day.
The special Sunday, July 24, 2011, was blistering hot, even before seven in the morning. We stood, near the front of a very long line, for an hour and a half before the doors opened to a loud countdown. Joanne Hanley and I were there as witnesses to the marriage of Don Thomas and Jorge Cao, our friends. While on line, they filled out forms requesting a waiver of the usual waiting period. Reporters and photographers—as numerous as the applicants—helped make the time pass quickly. Their favorite question, “How long have you been together?” Don and Jorge’s “thirty-three years” became their mantra, though they were shy about talking about their courtship beyond Jorge’s saying that “both our families were very supportive.” We were probably 16th or 17th in line, behind a diverse group of women and men of various hues and in various styles of dress, including the comfortable shirts and trousers that Don and Jorge were wearing. Flowers ranged from carnations and roses to lilies and orchids. Several male couples were spectacular in cutaways or formal black suits. I saw several white-gowned woman. Photographers who stopped to speak with Don and Jorge, could not resist photographing two young Asian women, their shining long hair falling down their backs almost to their arms clasped behind them.

By seven-thirty a rag-tag opposition began to set up their hate-filled signs catty-corner across the street, but before they could gain the attention of the wedding parties, a far larger group of young people, unfurling a rainbow of brilliant umbrellas, lined our street, thus deliberately removing the demonstrators from the view of wedding couples or larger parties.

Don and Jorge in lineThe umbrella-ed supporters and Don
Don and Jorge filling out paperwork in line
The umbrella-sporting supporters and Don

Inside it was cool as we all went through security and then Don and Jorge headed to check in and pay their license fee, and wait for an assignment to a judge. Joanne and I relaxed on comfortable seats to note the splendor and smiles of the crowds pouring in. Well prepared, all moved along in orderly fashion. Once fees were paid, we waited to be taken to a judge’s chambers. There seemed to be as many judges and other city workers as wedding parties.

Outside, Christine Quinn had come by to say hello and had her staff take a photo of us; inside she came by again, and I took a picture of her with Don and Jorge. Similarly, Tom Duane came by to say hello to Don and Jorge who live in his district and I took a photo of them together with Tom’s partner. Tom said, as Christine had, that they had no time today to get married.

Christine Quinn, Jorge, and DonSigning the license
Christine Quinn, Jorge, and Don
Signing the license

It was clear that there were scores of judges and orange-capped city workers volunteering this special Sunday, one of whom led us on a circuitous route to a large room leading to five judge’s chambers. The Judge asked Joanne and me to sign as witnesses, and then he confessed that this was the first time he had married anyone. And he was sweet, insisting at the end that he take a photo of the four of us.

In chambers with the judgeThe wedding party
In chambers with the judge
The Wedding Party

But then came the glitch. Outside the judge’s chamber, Don and Jorge joined a small line of married couples who had filled out waivers while on line. Thus, they still needed to be placed into the city’s system, which would then produce a marriage Certificate. Just as they joined the line, the computer doing this work broke down. We waited for nearly an hour while the computer was repaired and dropped off again. Finally, we were led to another space outside still another room, where someone brilliant said that, if couples did not mind waiting, they could turn their waivers in and they would receive the Certificate in the mail. Gladly, Don and Jorge turned their waivers in and we went off to brunch.

At The Odeon, a waitress noted the carnations and asked what we were celebrating. “We’re married,” Don and Jorge said together, and along with her “Congratulations,” she produced a bottle of champagne as a present. Brunch was wonderful….

From a distance—a week and a day later—how does it all seem? What stands out? The smiles, first of all, on all the volunteers in orange caps, the judges, the officials, and the wedding parties themselves, including Don and Jorge. I remember feeling very privileged to have been invited to stand up with Don and Jorge. And I remember being struck by the diversity. At one point when I thought my knees were about to collapse, I said I would walk to the very front of the line, thinking I might be able to talk my way inside to have a short sit-down. But before I could get there, I bumped into two tall, middle-aged black women who had a small cane-seat with them (like one I had at home), and I asked whether they’d let me sit on it for a few moments. “Of course,” one of them said, “make yourself comfortable right here.” And so I sat and looked at the women around me, of all colors, ages, in all kinds of comfortable clothing. And smiling.
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