Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

SF couples plan New York weddings


Mike McAllister, left, and Joe Gallagher, making plans to get married in New York next month, do a walk through at the Swedish American Hall. (Photo: Rick Gerharter)
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Back in 2008 Joe Gallagher proposed to his partner of two years, Michael McAllister, while he lay in a hospital bed with a collapsed lung.

"He was sedated, so I was pretty sure he would say yes," joked Gallagher, 50, the owner of Joe's Barbershop in the Castro.

Unable to marry before the passage that November of Proposition 8, California's same-sex marriage ban, the men have been in a perpetual state of engagement ever since. The idea of eloping to one of the five states that allow same-sex couples to wed has come up, but never seemed appealing enough for the men to truly consider it.

"We had talked about other states but the conversations have not gotten very far," said McAllister, 40, a writer and marketing consultant. "We thought of going maybe to Cape Cod or even Iowa because I am from Minnesota."

It appeared they would have to postpone their wedding plans until the day Prop 8 was either thrown out by the country's courts or through a repeal effort at the polls. That is until Empire State lawmakers last month passed a law granting the right to wed to same-sex couples.

The San Francisco couple is heading to New York this summer to finally say their vows. Now celebrating their fifth anniversary, they are no longer willing to postpone their wedding day until same-sex marriage is once again allowed in the Golden State.

"I am tired of waiting," said Gallagher of watching the legal challenge against Prop 8 slog its way through the federal courts. "This court case could happen this year or take three more years. Enough. I know whom I want to marry. I want to spend the rest of my life with him."

Same-sex marriage will become law in New York July 24, and many California couples are expected to head to the Big Apple to say, "I do." A mixture of impatience and personal attachments to New York will be principal factors for some, while more practical reasons will play a role in the decisions of others.

 One San Francisco couple is making plans to marry on Long Island at the end of August in hopes it could prove to be legally beneficial. One of the men is living here illegally.

Pointing to the recent dismissal of deportation proceedings in the case of a Venezuelan man who married his boyfriend in Connecticut last year, the local binational couple is hopeful their New York wedding will provide them the same legal protections.

"It doesn't mean every binational couple should run to get married. But being a legally married couple now holds sway with immigration courts," said Chris, 48, who asked that his last name not be used because of his foreign-born partner's being in the country illegally.

The partner, a German citizen, first attended Duke and then graduate school at UCSF. When his student visa expired he couldn't obtain a green card due to his being HIV-positive. With Chris also HIV-positive and severely sick at the time, he said it was not possible for him to move to Europe with his partner, who is now 51 years old.

"Picking up and moving to Germany was not an option. We tried everything we could think of to get him a green card," said Chris. "My intent wasn't to break the law. My intent was survival."

Having the man he loved by his side as he struggled with his health "was a part of that. I needed that rock in my life," said Chris.

Together now 17 years, the couple is in a registered domestic partnership with the state of California since both men have valid state driver's licenses. They were also able to marry back in 2004 in San Francisco but opted not to do so in 2008 since they feared their second marriage would also be invalidated as their first one had been.

"In hindsight, we wish we had," said Chris.

The men have yet to make final arrangements to head back east as they are waiting to see what the rules will be for non-resident same-sex couples wishing to marry in New York. According to the New York City Clerk's office, couples wishing to marry must present photo identification, which could be a valid driver's license. It also states that couples that obtain a marriage license must wait 24 hours before they can marry, unless they petition for a waiver of the time constraint.

Gallagher and McAllister are shooting for an August 17 wedding date. They plan to exchange vows along the Brooklyn Promenade.

"It is where Cher is walking down the boardwalk in Moonstruck ," said Gallagher, who is originally from Philadelphia and lived in New York City for 11 years prior to moving to San Francisco in 1998.

While McAllister also has ties to the Big Apple – he attended Columbia University – the couple plans to throw a ceremony with family and friends back in San Francisco.

"What is really important to me is we want to have a more traditional type of wedding," said McAllister last week before touring the Swedish American Hall nearby his partner's Market Street barbershop. "It will be the same in everything but the legality of it."

"Mike wanted to have a big wedding party here," added Gallagher. "It was not that important to me, but the more I thought about it, I realized it is really important that everybody sees it and witnesses it."

Not every couple headed to New York is doing so to marry. Spouses Sharon Papo, 32, and Amber Weiss, 34, plan to be in Manhattan with their 10-month-old son, Skyler, for the first New York weddings to shower the newlyweds with the same love (and flowers) they received when the San Francisco couple married at City Hall three years ago on June 17.

"When we got married in 2008 we were blown away ... by the overwhelming show of love from strangers who showed up to celebrate us and our marriage," said Papo, who has been with Weiss eight years. "I remember people gave us roses, chocolate, cookies, and affection."

The women plan to wear the same wedding dresses they wore to their private commitment ceremony they had in 2005 when they became domestic partners.

"We are just paying it forward and want our son to be there on this historic day," said Papo.

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