S.F. Voted Best City for Same Sex Marriage, But the Fight Ain't Over

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The engagement cake of Movoto CEO Henry Shao boasts jaunty gay extraterrestrials
While the streets of San Francisco looked like one big gay rainbow this past weekend with the throbbing throngs of Dionysian revelry, something more serious than a party was happening.

Now that DOMA is dead, San Francisco is the place to be, according to a new study by Movoto, which has deemed S.F. the best damn city in the nation for same-sex couples to tie the knot.

How'd they determine that you ask? Movoto sliced and diced a slew of cities throughout the country to figure out the best places to enter the wedding fray, using the following metrics:

  • HRC Equality Index rank
  • Percent of gay population
  • Gay bars per capita
  • Florists per capita
  • Bridal shops per capita
  • Formal wear (tuxedos)
  • Hotels per capita
  • Wedding planners per capita
  • DJs per capita
  • Catering companies per capita
  • Bakeries per capita
  • Photographers per capita

But we didn't necessarily need a study to tell us that San Francisco was the popular spot for gay couples looking to get married; As we reported last week week, after the Proposition 8 case was dismissed, nearly 500 gay couples rushed to City Hall to get married over the weekend.

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Karen Hester (left) with partner Chris Dunaway of Here Comes the Bride, long-time activists in the queer and feminist movement
Karen Hester, a longtime community activist and events coordinator -- is the founder of Here Comes the Pride, a wedding planning company in Oakland which couples up her LGBTQ clients up with their cultural counterparts, including gay and lesbian musicians, florists, caterers, you name it. She'll plan the whole shebang -- from hiking trips to the Redwoods to something more bourgeois in Fort Mason.

She said that when marriage first became legal in 2008, she thought she'd leverage her longtime event planning skills and launch a service "that a typical wedding planner wouldn't provide. Something with sensitivity ... and knowing our community so well."

Karen thinks San Francisco is a kind of Mecca for same-sex marriages for both aesthetic reasons as well as the more resonant cultural elements.

"There's something for everybody in San Francisco -- from a quiet elopement to 200 people," says Karen. "There are amazingly different venues both inside and outside -- like the new park near the Sutro baths, or just going to city hall, which is spectacularly beautiful, too. There's so many historic buildings, fabulous restaurants. There's something for every person from every walk of life, and for every pocketbook."

It doesn't hurt that we're a hot-bed of alternative lifestyles either. "In San Francisco, when I say I'm planning a same-sex wedding, nobody's going to blink an eye," Karen laughs.

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Justin Sullivan
Mark Guzman, right, and Scott Coatsworth during a marriage equality rally March 26 in San Francisco
Mark D. Guzman and J. Scott Coatsworth, co-founders of Purple Unions -- an extensive website directory of gay and lesbian vendors for weddings -- have been together for 21 years, and are reveling in the downfall of DOMA. And so is their business.

"We're running ragged," says the couple. "We've gotten more calls in the past three days than we'd normally get in a month. People in San Francisco are not only 'used' to [homosexuality] but embrace it. San Francisco is near and dear to our hearts."

When the passing of Prop. 8 reared its head in 2004, Scott and Mark decided to pull the trigger before their proverbial firearms were confiscated.

"We were waiting -- we wanted to have family and do the whole thing -- but we realized that Prop. 8 would probably get passed. We looked at each other and said, 'we really should get married now.'"

"So we found a violinist and photographer, got the family out and organized a wedding within two weeks, just two days before Prop 8 passed...it was nerve-wracking," the couple explained.

In November 2008, Mark and Scott got married for a second time, but last Wednesday marked another milestone in their struggle to "sanctify" their marriage in society's eyes; blood was running high.

"We were expecting the court to rule pretty much as they did ... what I didn't expect was how it was going to feel," said Scott. "DOMA had just come down. And I stood up with Mark and we hugged each other. We just started sobbing. We were fully married for the first time. When we were first married in 2004, we knew it was a political statement. We were at the top of the steps of City Hall and there was something inside me that said, 'the city of S.F. looks at us and sees us as a married couple.' And that still meant something."

But there's something exciting about a love that feels less marginalized, explains Scott. "There's a feeling of belonging."

The celebration of DOMA being struck down is more complicated for Carrie Marsh, Program Coordinator/ Lead Health Educator at Health Initiatives for Youth in San Francisco, however. For Marsh, the decision -- while exhilarating -- surfaces a slew of problematic sociocultural issues as well.

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Carrie Marsh,Trainer/Educator at Health Initiatives for Youth - HIFY (right) with partner E Atchley, celebrate at Dolores Park on Saturday
While Marsh believes that there are obvious protections and benefits of choosing to be a committed relationship -- and the prohibition of providing equal, tangible benefits to LGBTQ families is a disgrace -- she encourages LGBTQ individuals to closely examine the system to which they so desperately want to belong.

"I do not believe that the government should have any say in what counts as a 'legitimate; family deserving of benefits and protections," says Carrie. "Marriage also continues to be one place where our country's ideal of 'separation of church and state' becomes completely ignored."

Carrie also explains that the government is merely one venue in which they organize and privilege some family formations over others whether they be same-sex partnerships or not. And that's a stamp of approval she's not so keen on.

"I think it's very important for LGBTQ folks involved in the same-sex marriage movement to think critically about what it means to participate in a system that does not necessarily offer protection to a lot of poor people, incarcerated people, immigrants, single parents, or those involved in the welfare system."

Be wary of waving that rainbow-ed flag of marriage too fervently. There are still wars to be waged.

"Marriage is really only the last and final step to 'full equality' for those privileged individuals who can reasonably expect to benefit from the current system. In a sense, those involved in the same-sex marriage movement are demanding inclusion into an unjust system rather than challenging the system as a whole..."

Like Scott and Mark, Carrie said she was still surprisingly moved by the celebrations surrounding DOMA's downfall.

"When I got to the Castro I was immediately struck by the overwhelming feeling of joy in the streets," she says. "Watching all the families and partners and children and individuals who were married before Prop 8 celebrate, I felt very happy for them. I know we have a long way to go, and I still believe marriage is not going to be the avenue through which we get there. But on Wednesday, I was happy. I do believe I witnessed history and hope that our country keeps moving forward."

Karen of Here Comes the Pride says the adversity she has personally witnessed over the years in LGBTQ weddings -- even in the warm safe shoals of San Francisco's tolerant waters -- DOMA's banishment means the "normalization" of same-sex marriages is one-step closer.

She once planned a big "traditional" wedding for a couple whose family hailed from Utah...and were Mormon. The event became a defining moment that still resonates with her.

"It was like a family therapy weekend, beautiful to see. In the end, the fathers of the grooms were both crying and accepting their son's partners. Until that moment, I didn't realize that queer marriage is a real human rights and social change issue. This was major."


Carrie agrees that while San Francisco's sociocultural atmosphere is an openly loving and supportive community, there are other shifts that could be a detriment to a lifestyle we all hold so dear.

"I think the city is becoming more conservative and not all lifestyles are being celebrated like they used to (for example, the nudity ban going into effect)," she says. "I think you see a clash between the big professional tech booms, politicians, and those still looking to make San Francisco a radical oasis."


Carrie says she isn't trying to be a Debbie Downer, she just wants the community -- LGBTQ and otherwise -- to remember that marriage isn't a magic elixir, however momentous this occasion may be. She's championing to keep things moving forward, with an eye on the future and to banish complacency. In other words, keep fighting the good fight.

"The youth that I work with are not generally concerned with getting married when HIV, food, shelter, safety, and survival are very real day-to-day issues they have to worry about," she explains. "I hope that now that DOMA has been overturned we'll begin to shift money, attention and resources to the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community -- for whom marriage is not a saving force."

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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