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Gay marriage pioneers 'soak up the joy' at San Francisco City Hall

June 29, 2013|By Maria L. La Ganga
  • John Lewis, left, and Stuart Gaffney embrace outside San Francisco City Hall in anticipation of Wednesday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that cleared the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California
John Lewis, left, and Stuart Gaffney embrace outside San Francisco City… (Noah Berger / Associated…)

SAN FRANCISCO -- John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney looked at the line of gay and lesbian couples waiting happily for their marriage licenses at San Francisco City Hall on Saturday morning and were more than a little bit dumbstruck.

"Right now, San Francisco City Hall is the happiest place on Earth," Gaffney said. "I don't want to be any other place but here."

Lewis, 54, and Gaffney, 50, had been among the first 10 couples to be married in this very building in 2004, when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered the city to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Not long afterward, the California Supreme Court ruled that their marriage was null and void, along with the other 4,000 or so marriages performed during the so-called "Winter of Love."

So they joined a lawsuit, aptly named “In re Marriage Cases,” which sought to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. And in 2008, they won, after the same court that anulled their first marriage declared that denying the ceremony to gays and lesbians violated the state Constitution.

And then they got married again, this time legally, in the brief window between the May 2008 decision and the November 2008 passage of Proposition 8, which amended the California Constitution to say that, no, marriage was open only to heterosexual couples.

There was an immediate constitutional challenge to Proposition 8 by another set of same-sex couples who could not get married. This time, the state Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, although the thousands of couples who had been married legally in 2008 could stay married.

Then, yet another lawsuit was filed, this one called Perry vs Schwarzenegger, which sought to kill Proposition 8. It succeeded. The initiative’s backers appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which on Wednesday ruled that they did not have legal standing and were thus not even entitled to bring the case.

On Friday, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that weddings must begin again in California, post haste. And on Saturday, more than 100 people were lined up when San Francisco City Hall opened at 9 a.m. They wanted marriage licenses. They wanted to get married.

And on this day, they could.

“When does it happen that this entire grand City Hall is filled with loving, committed couples in every nook and cranny?” Lewis marveled.

“This is living proof that Prop. 8 is dead,” Gaffney said. “It’s the Summer of Love all over again.”

The two have been together for 26 years and work for Marriage Equality USA, Lewis as the advocacy group’s legal director, Gaffney as its media director. They have been toiling for this moment for nearly a decade. And on Saturday they looked as if they could not believe that it had happened.

“People are flooding here to be married here,” Lewis said. “Stuart and I were legally married in 2008, and there is no where else we’d be today.

“There is a palpable sense of security and safety, that it’s true and it can’t be taken away,” he said, as cheers and “I do’s” rang out around him. “It’s nothing that any other group goes through: having your marriage put up to a popular vote. ...

“We came here to soak up the joy.”


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Twitter: @marialaganga

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