On the Grand Staircase
Rothermel and Neff knew they were short on time, but they had no idea just how short. The day after their ceremony, the California Supreme Court halted the same-sex weddings Mayor Gavin Newsom had authorized four weeks—and over 4,000 weddings—earlier. (One county in Oregon has since licensed at least 2,000 same-sex marriages.)
When Newsom began allowing same-sex marriage licenses on February 12 , Rothermel and Neff watched the news intently from their Oakland home, but agreed that a rushed marriage wasn't for them. They soon changed their minds. “As time went on through that Valentine's Day weekend,” Neff said, “we saw how really important this was. It became kind of like, we need to stand up and be counted.”
Rothermel and Neff married on a perfect spring day surrounded by friends, strangers, and tourists, with their ministers, the Rev. Barbara and the Rev. Bill Hamilton-Holway of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, officiating. Neff and Rothermel have been members of the Berkeley congregation since 1997. Neff serves on the board of trustees and sat on the committee of parish ministry. Both Rothermel and Neff taught religious education, organized a church aids walk, and chaperoned the church prom for gay youth.
Dressed in matching tuxedos with iridescent lavender ties, Rothermel and Neff crossed San Francisco's tree-lined Civic Center and climbed City Hall's front stairs. Friends waited for them with deep pink corsages. Tall and slim with chestnut hair in a neat ponytail, Neff adjusted Rothermel's jacket, then his tie. A shorter, rounder Rothermel smiled broadly as he fiddled with Neff's corsage.
With ties in place, corsages straight, and friends and ministers in tow, Rothermel and Neff opened the doors to City Hall. Past security, they held hands, unsure where to go. A woman directed them to the County Clerk's office, a boxy room with too few clerks and too many flashbulbs. There, couples completed blue forms with pens chained to clipboards. The room buzzed with words of congratulations and giggles over the family planning pamphlets issued to the couples.
Once their forms were official, Rothermel and Neff headed to the grand staircase under City Hall's intricate rotunda. Another wedding occupied the top of the stairs, so they chose the bottom. The Hamilton-Holways slipped on their black robes.
An elderly woman wondered out loud what church was willing to come here, to take a stand and perform a marriage. Barbara held one side of a black book of readings while her husband Bill supported the other. They read in unison.Teenagers with guidebooks crept close. Cameras flashed. By the end, Neff's lips trembled while Rothermel could only smile, his full cheeks rounding on his face. When they kissed, bystanders clapped and cheered.