Monday, February 14, 2011

Standing on the Side of Love

Today I was taken away in handcuffs as the battle ground for equal rights moves from the lunch counter to the marriage license counter.

It was part of a marriage equality action. As a way to highlight the injustice of marriage laws, which deny gay and lesbian couples the legal rights and protections which marriage affords, and to honor the anniversary of San Francisco's "Winter of Love" (2004) when Mayor Gavin Newsom surprised the world by allowing city officials to issue marriage certificates to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation, marriage counter protests occur in city halls across America as gay and lesbian couples request--and are denied--a marriage license.

Heading into the marriage license office
 In San Francisco, clergy, gay and lesbian couples, and city officials held a press conference in City Hall.  Following the press conference, we clergy accompanied several couples to the marriage license counter. When they were refused a license, we sat down and began to sing, "What the world needs now is love, sweet love" until we were led away in handcuffs.

As an officer handcuffed me and led me down into the basement of City Hall, he guided me with his hand on my shoulder and back with the gentlest of touches. I remember thinking, "I have never been touched by a stranger--and certainly not by an arresting officer--in a way that had ever made me feel like I was something precious." That's how gentle he touched me.

We got to the bottom of the stairs and then he motioned for me to walk with him down a long corridor that ran the length of City Hall. Suddenly, he blurted out, "I didn't think this would be as hard as it is," and he burst into tears.

He looked at me, tears running down his face, and told me of how he and his husband had been married in 2008. He was grateful that they were amongst the lucky ones, whose marriage is still recognized by California. "But it hurts to know there are other couples who feel the same love we do, who can't get married."

By then, we were both in tears, held in the tension felt between our two vocations. He was doing his job, by arresting me. I was doing my job by standing up for justice and love.  Together, we saw how flawed our legal system is when it refuses to protect the loving relationship of all committed couples.

He led me into the holding room and before he uncuffed me, he blessed me with two simple words:

"Thank you."


  1. And there are tears in IL, too. Thank you Karen.
    David Aslesen

  2. Beautiful. A tear here, too. Thank you, Pastor!

  3. This is beautiful; how could one not write about such an experience? Thanks for sharing.

  4. What unexpected blessings come when good people act from their hearts. Thank you so much for sharing this tender and poignant story, Karen.

    I'm watching you all right now on TV news, sitting, singing and being led off in handcuffs.

    Moved once again by your actions and luscious soul. Proud to know you.

    Assorted mush,

    Molly Burke CPCC MSU
    Queen of Confidence
    Author, speaker, mentor/coach

  5. My heart goes out to that police officer and the moral injury he suffered by virtue of carrying out the arrests. I hope his sweetie gives him an extra big hug this evening.

    BTW, don't forget that some of the folks in those same-sex couples are bisexual, not just gay or lesbian. (It's not like we only get 569 federal rights taken away. :-) )

  6. What a beautiful story. I was there watching and from my vantage point looking down at the stairs, I noticed how gently you were handled. Yours is one of the few photos I took from that position that came out reasonably well:

  7. Thank you for being the pastor your are, doing the job in the way that you do, and for telling the story of your journey. So much power in each! Thanks.

  8. We can't just put our toes in the water. In fact, the toes should be the last to enter the water as we dive in head first for the things we believe in. What an amazing encounter with a consequential stranger. Thank you for sharing and for all you do.

    Robert Barzler

  9. Proof that there can be good in what appears not to be; there can be love regardless of situation; and there can be compassion regardless of duty. How blessed I am to read about your encounter...we shall overcome.

  10. Tears came to my eyes too. This is an affirmation of all that is good and decent among caring people.

    Thank you.