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The Daily Journal

 

June 17, 2008

 

By Michelle Durand

 

 

A New Chapter

 

 

Who wrote the book of love?

 

In San Mateo County, the answer is dozens and dozens of couples who — without the legal right of marriage — have held on to the idea of love and a hope that the law and public sentiment would eventually catch up with Cupid.


An album chronicling the struggle has grown over the past few years as couples trekked annually to the San Mateo County Clerk’s Office to seek a marriage license. Although those making the effort knew they would not be allowed to marry, Deputy Clerk Theresa Rabe and Communications Director Carol Marks began culling the families’ thoughts and photos in a book to be donated to the San Mateo County Historical Museum when the law finally changed.


On Monday night, the long-standing definition of marriage as only between a man a woman became history.


And at the end of this week, with the addition of names from the county’s first same-sex couples to marry legally, the book capturing a piece of that history may be closed and donated.


The actual fate of the book is up in the air right now because of the pending November election. Donating the book only to learn in the fall the fight isn’t over would be heart-breaking, Rabe said.


For now, new pages will be tucked into the green photo album, behind the pages already bearing copies of prior legislative attempts at same-sex marriage, crayon drawings by children who want their parents to marry and sentiments from like that of Kathy L. whose handwritten last name is illegible: “While I’m proud to make history I wish it wasn’t necessary.”


The book first appeared in February 2007, the same year County Clerk Warren Slocum sent letters to the clerks of every county statewide asking them to join in support of Assembly Bill 43, proposed legislation to allow gay couples marriage rights. The timing was fitting, he said, because 2007 marked the 30th anniversary of the law which changed the legal marriage wording to “a man and a woman.”


Couples received a copy of Slocum’s letter tied with a ribbon and an invention by Rabe and Marks to sign the album.


The point really was to focus on the families rather than the often-negative publicity generated by the fight for equality, Rabe said.


The names and stories between the album’s covers include both the known — County Supervisor Rich Gordon and his longtime partner Dennis McShane,  Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, San Carlos activists Ramona and Arzu Gatto and their teenage daughter, Marina — and those of couples whose names might not as easily spring to mind. The adults gave their John Hancock while the children drew their families.


“The day is coming,” wrote the Rev. Vail Wells and Denison Weller.


Hillary and Sheryl O’Conner wrote they were together 11 years with two children. Hazel Miranda proclaimed her love for Jasmine while others noted the special occasion.


“We are proud to be here on this important day to celebrate equality for same-sex marriages,” wrote parents and daughter Sandra, Ezzy and Penelope Medina.

The book also includes copies of Slocum’s letter and supportive responses from other county clerks statewide. A copy of Leno’s failed Assembly bill filled one page and scores more include snapshots from the 2007 rally showing faces of couples, groups of teenage supports and a who’s who of speakers both statewide and locally. Newspaper clippings and paper hearts are tucked in between the personal sentiments.


While all the pages tell the story, some participants chose drawings over words. While some children wrote binder paper letters to Slocum, others drew cars, photos of them with him or their interpretation of their family.


The book returned on Valentine’s Day 2008, before anybody knew there wouldn’t be more in the years after. Marina Gatto even noted in her remarks that this should be the last year for the wedding-album alternative.


Now, Rabe said while showing off the book, it looks like the wish will come true.


Michelle Durand can be reached by e-mail: michelle@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.