Sam and Mark's Super Happy Wedding Funtime

San Francisco City Hall

Posted on: June 30, 2012

My High School french teacher, in discussing marriage and culture in France, told us that in France you have a civil ceremony and you have a religious ceremony. And that some couples (the horror) only have a civil ceremony (the horror) because in France, only the civil ceremony counts (the horror). (My french teacher was a bit of a bible beater.)

This little nugget of information stuck in my brain. It brightened my day. It appealed to me in a way that I didn’t quite understand at the time. A civil ceremony. Not in a church. Not by the church. But a real marriage, a real recognized marriage, that has nothing to do with religion.

You see, 14-year-old Sam had never really thought about marriage (she was only 14). 14-year-old Sam just kind of thought you had to go to church, or get a minister, or something like that to get married (and yes, her parents didn’t do this, but that didn’t mean 14-year-old Sam put 2 and 2 together). And 14-year-old Sam knew she didn’t like that idea, but because she never really thought about it, hadn’t really, well, thought about it. But here was this little seed. Given to her by a person she mostly despised for her condescending, overtly religious tone that seemed inappropriate for the classroom. A small, round, seed of thought, planted in the soft mushy gray matter of her brain.

I did some checking and my french teacher was correct. French law only recognizes civil marriage, performed by someone in the French Civil Authority (officier de l’état civil), which includes the Mayor (maire), the Deputy Mayor (adjoint), or a City Councillor (conseiller municipal). This is not relevent to the rest of this story, but I thought you might like to know. Additionally, France does not recognize gay marriage, but they do have something called Pacte Civil de Solidarité (PaCS), which gives the couple (gay or straight) some (not all) of the legal protections of marriage without officially being married. Now you know.

This isn’t about France. This is about City Hall. But I bet you can guess where I am going with this.

Flash forward 20 years. Now I am an adult. Sort of. And I am preparing to get married. Hitched. Wed-ed. And now we have to decide all sorts of things- the when, the where, the who, the how. What do we want? A country wedding? A city wedding? A beach wedding? An elopement?

We went through them all, slowly eliminating them one by one. Too expensive to my beloved Cal Academy and Ferry Building. Too complicated to Monterey and Mendocino. Too Barn-y to all the rustic wine country weddings (while beautiful, rustic tends to not have sufficient bathroom space. I’m not using a port-a-potty at my wedding, I’m just not that girl). Elopement was eliminated (though not without a bit of a battle). We eventually decided on The City. Our beautiful city where we met and fell in love.

Of course, narrowing it down in the city was still tough. We have beautiful beaches and parks and forests and hotels and ballrooms. Heck, we have boats and islands. We pretty much have anything you could possibly want. Anything.

But the other side of anything I want is that I didn’t really want much. I want to get married. I want it to be official. I want it to be secular. I don’t want birds in flight at sunset or fireworks or the sea lapping at my bare feet. I don’t want bare feet. A wedding is a legal union. A wedding is official and proper and witnessed. It is a serious thing. It requires paperwork.



City Hall. What could be more perfect? Let me revise that- what could be more perfect for me?

I guess some people don’t think wandering cold, bureaucratic halls in your fancy clothes screams wedding. But I do. I totally do.

The cold, bureaucratic halls.

A wedding is, at it’s core, a celebration of paperwork. We are not going to be more committed to each other after the vows than before. We are going to be more publicly committed, sure. And we are definitely going to be more legally committed. And that is thanks to the power of paperwork. A magic form that changes our lives. A form that gives me access to all these rights and all these new tax rules. A form that lets me change my insurance- outside of open enrollment. It is a powerful form.

So, City Hall. Center of municipality. Center of society. Where laws are made. Where decrees are decreed. Could there be a better place for paperwork of this magnitude? I think not.

San Francisco City Hall. Beautiful, historic, City Hall.

The current City Hall is a replacement for the original which was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire. The replacement and the surrounding buildings in the area known as Civic Center were all designed and constructed as part of the city beautiful movement. Construction started in 1913 and finished in 1915 (just in time for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition). The dome on our City Hall is the fifth largest in the world and 19ft higher than the US Capitol building. Our City Hall has been home to student protests, state funerals and Gavin Newsom’s famous “whether you like it or not” speech. Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio were married there. And steps from the Mayor’s Balcony was where George Moscone was shot to death by Supervisor Dan Brown.

City Hall is more than just a place to fill out forms and pay fines. It is the heart of The City. It is the bloody, painful past and the hopeful, enthusiastic future. For someone who lives solely in the secular world, this is a true cathedral. I can think of no better place on earth to get married.


That is the Mayor’s Balcony. Over the clock is the inscription:



I love this. I love the beautiful details in the building. I love the grandeur.

The Grand Staircase

4th floor light-well under the rotunda

Light well from below

The view from the Mayor’s Balcony

So that is where we will be getting married. Right there. On the Mayor’s Balcony overlooking the grand staircase, we will add our small but significant moment to the layers of history in this beautiful place.


1 Response to "San Francisco City Hall"

Apparently that obnoxious French Teacher of yours taught you more than a few French phrases.

The venue is perfect. But I’ve told you that before haven’t I?

Clearly, if any of my many French language teachers had succeeded, I would have entered this en francais!


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Sam and Mark

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