By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
Eat, Drink and Be Gay Married!
After 27 years together, one couple finally has its big, fat, Mexican, recovering-drug-addict, HIV-positive, ex-transgender gay wedding
In the tiny marriage-ceremonies room at the old Orange County courthouse, where friends and reporters squeeze in to witness the couple's exchange of vows, Alfonso Guerrero can't hold back the tears when the officiant asks him in Spanish to repeat the words "I, Alfonso, take you Manuel as my legal husband . . . in health and in sickness, I promise to love you . . ."
Guerrero's face glistens with tears. He had made this promise to his partner, Manuel "Bibys" Chavez, 27 years ago after their first kiss, then again in 2000 when they registered as domestic partners in California, then again in 2005 when they celebrated their 25th anniversary and exchanged silver anniversary wedding bands.
During the course of their decades-long relationship, Guerrero had nursed Chavez back to health after he was given three months to live, the couple battled heroin addiction and homelessness together, and both have weathered the tribulations of living with HIV.
Even if the promise to continue to love and care for each other seems redundant on the warm morning of June 17, Guerrero's hand still shakes as he places the ring on Chavez's finger. "This is important for us," he had said earlier. "It's important for people to see that homosexual people aren't jumping from one relationship to another, that there are stable, long-term couples out there."
The couple is the third to wed in downtown Santa Ana on Tuesday, the first to do so in Spanish. Minutes before their ceremony, Guerrero and Chavez stared nervously at the clerk-recorder's office attendant who helped them complete their forms. "My car was broken into and my ID was stolen about a week and a half ago," Chavez said. "I couldn't sleep last night because I didn't know if they would let us get married today."
California's same-sex-marriage roller coaster has experienced its share of highs and lows in the past decade. In 1999, the state permitted same-sex couples to register as domestic partners with limited rights. In 2000, a state ballot initiative banned the recognition of same-sex marriages. In February 2004, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom made national headlines when he defied California law by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Couples flocked to San Francisco from around the country, with 4,000 getting married within a month. But the fairy tale was interrupted when a state judge, spurred by gay-marriage opponents, halted the weddings and the state Supreme Court voided the marriages.
Two dozen couples filed suit following the court's ruling; that suit led to the Supreme Court ruling last month, which overturned the gay-marriage ban and ruled it unconstitutional. The court also rejected a last-minute appeal by anti-gay-marriage groups, who had sought to stop the issuing of marriage licenses until after voters decide on a November ballot initiative that would change the state constitution to ban gay marriage.
Sixty couples had appointments to receive their licenses in Orange County on June 17, the first full day the state would hand out legally binding licenses to same-sex couples.
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The night before their wedding, Guerrero stares at the big-screen TV in the living room of the snug Pomona home he shares with Chavez. He is watching the video from the couple's 25th-anniversary ceremony. Chavez, who was dressed as a woman for the event, walks out of the room during the part when Guerrero places the ring on his finger. "I can't watch this part," he says, fanning his face.
Captivated, Guerrero lets the tears run down his face. "I just can't believe it's been 27 years," he says, smiling. "It doesn't feel like so much time has gone by, but it has. And we've been through so much."
It was November 1980, and the setting was a dusty, large supermarket in Guadalajara, Mexico, called Plaza Frutas. There, a slender boy of 15 with oversized oval eyes and full lips noticed Guerrero, a taller, clean-cut young man of 20 who was stuffing strawberry baskets.
Guerrero saw that the young Chavez was assigned to peeling onions. "I could tell he hated it," says Guerrero.
The pair were only a few days into their new jobs. After passing Chavez a few times and making small talk, Guerrero pulled him from the onion line and gave him small baskets to fill from the mounds of ripe strawberries.
They chatted. Guerrero told Chavez about his six-month visit to the U.S., his stay in Santa Ana and his decision to come back to Mexico. Life there seemed lonely, he told him. They talked about their brief forays into the dating world, their old parejas.
At the end of the day, Chavez, who is known to be shy, pulled Guerrero aside and offered him a strawberry. He placed it in his mouth, and the usually gregarious Guerrero hesitated. "I got close, and he didn't back up," he says. "So there was nothing left to do but grab the strawberry."
"We have been inseparable since," says Chavez.
The time and place weren't exactly hospitable to young gay couples. They pretended they were friends and began spending nearly every night at each other's family's homes. Soon, they were making plans to come to the U.S.