When former Memphian Mark Chambers got married on Valentine's Day, friends joked how he had the nerve to wear a white shirt. But that was hardly the only break Chambers made with tradition.
Chambers and his partner of 22 years, Cullen Holliman, joined more than 3,400 gay couples who married in San Francisco recently in a move against the ban on same-sex marriages. The first ceremonies took place February 12th. By the 13th, couples were coming from all over the country to get hitched.
Courts may rule such marriages illegal, but that didn't stop Chambers, who headed to city hall the next morning, where he found a line stretched all the way around the building.
"People who had gotten married the day before were coming back with treats and flowers," said Chambers. "With all the gays and lesbians, if you just mixed up the groupings, it would look like any other wedding."
Chambers and Holliman have been domestic partners since California allowed the distinction, meaning their union is acknowledged by law. The legal standing gives them rights to family benefits at work, protects any children they may have together, and ensures their rights during medical emergencies.
To become domestic partners, they went to a notary public and signed some papers. "It was no big deal," said Chambers. "It was a legal transaction. A few weeks later, we got something in the mail."
The marriage wasn't supposed to have much more significance. It had been storming for days in California, and if it had been still raining, Chambers and Holliman wouldn't have waited in line at city hall. But they did, and friends from Memphis brought champagne and flowers. A Tokyo news crew followed them around for a story. Later, they went home and celebrated with an impromptu party.
"The $104 [marriage fee] was definitely worth it," said Chambers. "It strengthened our relationship. It was oddly emotional to be able to step up like anyone else wants to. It feels good."
But the main reason for marrying was political. Chambers was in Memphis the day Martin Luther King Jr. was shot, and Holliman lived in Alabama during the Birmingham riots. Even if their marriage is ruled invalid, Chambers said it's a matter of civil rights.
"It was just to make a point. The Constitution says, 'We the people,' not 'just you' and 'you can't.' It's a hard knot to tie," said Chambers.
So Chambers tied a knot himself. "It was a lovely service. We were married in the fourth-floor rotunda," he said. "It was so normal."
Except for that part about the Tokyo news crew.