“Ordinarily, a person leaving a courtroom with a conviction behind him would wear a somber face,” Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1956. “But I left with a smile. I knew that I was a convicted criminal, but I was proud of my crime.” San Francisco's 2009 version of the civil-rights struggle King waged 50 years ago saw plenty of smiling criminals arrested this afternoon. More often than not the cops were smiling, too.
So far, demonstrations against the California Supreme Court's decision today to uphold a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage have not been marked by any of the water hoses, chucked stones, police dogs, or tear-gas canisters that have accompanied earlier generations' civil-rights struggles. In San Francisco, that's not such a big surprise. The city government itself has firmly allied itself with supporters of gay marriage. Who would expect police officers to crack down on champions of the same cause the mayor has claimed as his own and for which the city attorney has fought in court?
The protesters themselves, meanwhile, have so far proved well-organized and intent on avoiding violent flare-ups. In today's biggest display of civil disobedience, a group of about 140 demonstrators organized by the anti-Prop. 8 groups One Struggle, One Fight and Marriage Equality USA sat down to block traffic at the intersection of Van Ness and Grove by City Hall. Cops swarmed the area, but none found occasion to don the riot helmets they held at the ready: The demonstrators had come with the expectation of being arrested — which they were, one-by-one, without resisting. Officers on the scene said the protesters would be issued citations but would not face criminal charges.