May 17, 2004

Northampton report

I wasn't able to be in Northampton for the 8:30 opening of the municipal offices; I had to proctor a final exam at UMass. But as I waited for the 7:15 bus at the downtown stop, I saw a woman with a young child videotaping the as yet empty street. She quizzed a bystander about the day's significance: "Do you know what's special about today?" "Yeah. Everybody can get married today!" "Yay!"

When I got back into town at around 10:30, the first thing I saw as I approached City Hall were some balloons in front. Then I saw two ambulances. Before I could engage in any tragic speculation, I noticed that the balloons were tied to the ambulances. Whew. Ok, I figured, it's a gay-friendly ambulance company and they're there to show support. I get there and they have a big stuffed teddy bear strapped to a gurney, and someone in a giant bear suit playing with kids. It took me a second to figure out that this was entirely unconnected to the marriage celebrations.

Then I head toward the office building in back of City Hall. Before I get there some guy hands me a small leaflet advertizing a revival meeting. There's a picture of Jesus and a US soldier and a US flag in the background. I didn't look at it long enough to decipher the message but there were no references to the day's events. Between this and the bears I'm thinking, this is weird, even for Northampton.

Finally I turn the corner and see the line extending halfway to Main Street. There are a bunch more people milling around, some with signs, balloons, or flower necklaces. People taking pictures and video. Lots of kids running around. Every ten minutes or so, a couple emerges with their shiny new certificates, and they're greeted with big cheers and a bit of rice. The overall atmosphere is festive, but not the festive abandon they had in Cambridge the night before. It's more of a July 4th festive, a relaxed good vibe punctuated by the fireworks of the emerging couples. But at the same time you can almost see the realization of the enormity of the occasion sinking in. Some people have been there all morning and have to return to their daily lives but can't pull themselves away.

I meet a friend who was planning to marry her partner today, but they are in the process of adopting, and some states won't release babies to same-sex couples. Single parents are okay. And they say irony died on 9/11. Once the kid gets to Massachusetts there's no problem, but until then they have to wait. It's a downer and a sign of the difficulties ahead, but she's in a great mood nonetheless; she's confidently sporting a balloon that says "We're Getting Married".

It's a picture perfect day and even the orneriest New Englander couldn't find a flaw. Mid-seventies, low humidity, no clouds. I think of Pat Robertson's prophecy of tornadoes and locusts for Orlando a few years back.

My two favorite signs:

Finally! Now all I need is a date.

And they lived equally ever after

On the local evening news, they attempt a "balanced" report by interviewing a single protester (who apparently couldn't be bothered to do much protesting, since he was gone by the time I got there) who mentioned something about an agenda. But in all the tv coverage I saw, from the local folks to the BBC, there was no way they could balance out the positive images beaming out from city halls across the commonwealth. It was like trying to objectively cover a sporting championship; our local reporter was surrounded by cheering supporters and couldn't supress a faint smile herself.

There is plenty more struggle ahead, but today such thoughts were clearly reserved for May 18th and beyond.