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COURSEY: Waiting 91 years for a special moment

There's not a lot of joy in the news this week, with 19 firefighters dead in Arizona, a coup brewing in Egypt, a transit strike in the Bay Area, student-loan costs doubling and temperatures rising to the triple digits.

But it's hard to suppress a smile and maybe even a happy tear or two while reading Mary Callahan's story about Monday's scene at the Sonoma County Clerk's Office. There she found joy overflowing the halls as same-sex couples lined up to exercise their newly granted right to marry.

Erin Nelson of Rohnert Park came to see her friends Katie and Amy Evans-Reber tie the knot, and she brought her own children, ages 9 months and 3, who handed out roses to several freshly married couples.

"They don't understand what's going on," Nelson said of her young children. "But they understand love, and that's what this is all about."

Indeed. How could anyone argue against our society and government recognizing the love and commitment of Don Nicholson and Phil Johnson, who have been partners for 49 years but until last week's Supreme Court rulings were denied the right to formalize that partnership in a wedding ceremony?

They said their vows and kissed at the courthouse on Monday. Then Nicholson, 91, said, "I never thought I would live to see the day."

Some didn't. Ralph Hall, formerly of Windsor, was 90 when he died in 2008. He was a gay man who, after being arrested for dancing with another man in 1930s Hollywood, was closeted in a heterosexual marriage for most of his life. His daughter, former Santa Rosa urban planner Laura Hall, tells her father's story in a thoughtful, loving blog called "My Dad's Closet" -- http://mydadscloset.com/

Laura Hall tells a story of a man who loved his wife and children, but regretted his entire life that society's laws and mores kept him from pursuing a relationship with the man he had held in his arms at that Hollywood party.

For all of its sadness, there is joy in Ralph Hall's story, too. He found peace and comfort and hope in life. But he never got to experience the kind of moment and wonder that infused the air Monday at the county courthouse.

Ninety-one years. Imagine that.


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