The Park Manor Hotel's Friday night happy hour always manages to bring a full house. The rooftop bar attracts mostly gay men in their 30s and 40s. It's a favorite of Charles, a healthcare consultant, and his partner, Henry, a spy aircraft designer, who are contemplating the idea of marriage before it gets repealed.
“That's the rush that would push us; but we don't like to be pushed,” Charles said, sipping his drink. He dreams of a big ceremony with all the bells and whistles, but he's afraid his Southern Baptist family won't show. “Not because we're gay, but because Henry is Middle Eastern,” he quipped.
Their friend John has been in a long-term relationship for six years and is leery of hopping aboard the marriage bandwagon. “As much as I would love to, fact is he makes more money than I do, and marriage does not make financial sense to us,” said John, who, like his partner, was once married to a woman. They're raising their three teenage kids together and have left the gay-community hub of Hillcrest for a suburban life in Poway. “They have a very good school system,” John pointed out.
Copies of a glossy pamphlet were scattered on the bar promoting the Park Manor's wedding packages. It had a picture of two wedded men, as well as one of an embracing lesbian couple. Turns out equality comes at a price ($89.95 per person for a one-entrée buffet and $8,500 for the reception hall rental).
“That's nothing,” John remarked. He works in the sales department of a big chain hotel that starts its wedding packages at $14,000 on the low end.
Gay weddings are set to be a cash cow for the foreclosure-laden sunshine state. Lee Bagdett, director of UCLA's Williams Institute, recently predicted that they'll represent a $684-million boost to the economy over the next three years. The New York Times referred to same-sex nuptials as a “potential windfall.”Pat and Dallas are members of Slightly Older Lesbians (SOL), a women's social group that meets on Fridays at The Center in Hillcrest. At last week's meeting, the two said that after being together for more than three decades, they're planning to make it “official.”
“It's a great moment to be in, but we have to wait until the elections in November and see how things pan out. There is more to the symbolism which translates into dollars and cents,” Pat said, adding that they're currently in talks with both an attorney and an accountant.
Mary, the group's moderator, said marriage was not for her. “The way I look at it, a wedding certificate changes the person. I don't need a piece of paper.”
As monumental as the California Supreme Court's recent ruling was, the reality is that a whole new sector must now embrace all the obligations that come along with the marital institution; and before marching down the aisle, they'll have to get familiarized with the concepts of property settlements, inheritance, health benefits, pensions, child custody, medical decision making, and, yes, divorce.
Another lady at the SOL meeting chimed in, saying that what really needs to change is the federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996. “If something was to happen to me and I wanted to leave my house to my partner, she would have to pay a gift tax under federal law,” she said. “Can you imagine paying a gift tax on half your house? As you get older, you start thinking about these things.”
Pat emerged from the debate unscathed and plans to go through with her ceremony. “After 32 years, I'm finally going to make an honest woman of her,” she said, looking into Dallas' eyes. The ladies giggled.Rich, a native San Diegan, is old enough to remember when the bars in Hillcrest had no outdoor signs for fear of being caught in a police dragnet. He equates that time with the Jazz Age back east. He served in the U.S. Air Force, and he's currently a member of FOG, the Fellowship of Older Gays. The group gets together every Saturday morning at Lily's Garden Café in University Heights.
“You know, it's a funny thing: If you have sex with a female, you're considered heterosexual; if you do it with a male, you're homosexual; and if you don't do it at all, you're a Republican,” Rich joked.
Marriage is not in the cards for him—he'll leave that for the younger generation. “Deconstructivism has taken over the youth. They've grown up asking questions and forming a balanced view of what's going down the pike,” he said. “It's an institution and a legal shackle.”
Robert L. Bettinger, another FOG member at the coffee social, was beaming with pride. He said that after a lifetime of advocacy, he could finally breathe easy. “I'm gay, and I'm also a clergyman in the Episcopal Church. I found it unconscionable for the church to prevent me from officiating a ceremony between two loving gay people and them being OK with uniting what might be a destructive straight couple. I'm 80 years old, and I thank God I got to live this moment.”In the words of Broadway actor and longtime gay-rights activist Harvey Fierstein, “Political movements always belong to the young.” Young people have grown up watching openly gay men and women hook up on MTV's The Real World and Next. The idea of a “super-sweet” wedding was more than appealing to a group of kids outside “The Other Prom,” a special dance organized by the Hillcrest Youth Center where it's OK to bring a same-sex date without the fear of being ostracized. The theme was “Hollywood Glam.” A red carpet led into the ballroom, and the entrance was adorned with life-size cardboard cut-outs of Marilyn Monroe, Vivian Leigh and the like. Classic prom fashions took a backseat to brightly colored vinyl corsets, studded belts and Cyndi Lauper-inspired tulle skirts. The girls looked nice, too.
Britney, an 18-year-old Santee resident sitting outside the venue waiting for her date to show, said marriage is in her future. “It's something I definitely see myself doing,” she said. “It's great that we all have the same rights now.” She basked in being able to be at The Other Prom. “It's hard being gay in Santee,” she said as she adjusted her red rose boutonniere.
Josh, a 17-year-old graduating junior at Francis Parker prep, shared in her view. “For me, it's for sure happening in the future.” He said that his high-school advisor just married her partner of 18 years. Josh said that he's accepted by his peers and has no hang-ups on the issue. “I live and work in Hillcrest, so I'm kind of surrounded by a San Diego gay liberal bubble,” he said. “Except for, like, the dumb bros in East County, it's kinda like, What ev.”Tony and Sean, a biracial couple from Kentucky, were at odds on the marriage issue as they had a beer at Pecs, a bar in Hillcrest that caters to more rough-and-tumble gay men. “I would do it in a heartbeat!” Tony said. “We were at another bar earlier and we witnessed a proposal. The guy got down on one knee and everything. I had a tear in my eye, but I held it back, so I wouldn't be the biggest fag in there. It was wonderful.”
Sean kept quiet and rolled his eyes. Princess Royale Crystal Chandelier from the Imperial Court of San Diego was at Pecs that night, too. She flat-out has no interest partaking in a civil union. “Gay men are too flakey,” she said. “They have to think about the ramifications. You can't get married, get in a fight six weeks later and call it quits. All it takes is you leaving your heels in the wrong place, and bam! It's over.”
What if he's rich?
“No!” she said.
What if he owns a wig shop?
What if he's the CEO of MAC cosmetics?
“No, I won't conform.”
Her friend Stacy Bentley agreed: “You share everything. Every credit card, every debt. I'm all for gay rights, just not for gay marriage,” said Bentley, a fierce drag queen by night, a lawyer by day. “You have no idea how many clients that got married in Massachusetts come to me wanting to terminate their union.”
A couple of silver-haired “daddies” sat nearby and flipped through the latest issue of the Gay and Lesbian Times, which is suddenly filled with ads from businesses offering special same-sex marriage deals. “I got the funniest thing in my inbox today; it was a doctored image of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney tying the knot,” one man told the other, who replied, “So much for the sanctity of marriage!”