Same-sex couple reflects on 20 years of marriage equality in San Francisco

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Tuesday, February 13, 2024
Same-sex couple reflects on 20 years of marriage equality in SF
One of the couples who took part on the historic day of first same-sex marriages in San Francisco reflects on the past 20 years.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- On February 12, 2004, then Mayor Gavin Newsom defied the federal same-sex marriage ban and allowed same-sex couples the right to marry in San Francisco. The fight didn't end there and one of the couples who took part in that historic day reflects on the past 20 years.

That day became a moment in time John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney never thought would come.

"It was the most urgent wedding proposal you ever heard! It was John screaming into the phone, 'It's history! We can get married, get to City Hall now, now, now!" smiled Stuart, sitting beside his partner of 37 years.

John was attending a Freedom to Marry Day rally when the news broke. Then Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered the city to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in what became known as "The Winter of Love."

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"At that moment as we got married, 17 years together then it was the first time in our lives we felt like equal human beings in the eyes of the law," said John, while holding his beloved's hand.

John and Stuart became one of the first couples in the state to be married but knew their elation could be taken away in an instant.

"We didn't know if an hour later the marriages might stop - it felt historic but fragile."

More than 4,000 same-sex couples married that month on the steps of City Hall. But as predicted one month later, the decision was challenged by the California Supreme Court. All of those licenses, were deemed null and void.

"It was so interesting to be an activist and a lawyer and then to be a citizen in San Francisco in the middle of this most engaging and electrifying moment," said Kate Kendell, former executive director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. She was one of the lead attorneys fighting for marriage equality.

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"We ultimately won the case we filed but justice is a little slower. It took four years before we finally won marriage in California. Then we have Prop 8 that took it away, and that went to the Supreme Court; 2015 is when it all got settled and resolved and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage rights for same-sex couples," she said via Zoom.

As John and Stuart continue to celebrate, there is also a sense of urgency again, as the rights of the LGBTQ community come under attack. Currently, the ACLU is tracking 417 anti-LGBTQ bills in the country in almost every state.

"We're very aware of the divisions and threats in the country and around the world. Throughout this movement, we relied on our wedding vows to be together for better or for worse," said John.

Stuart nodded and continued, "It was our city and government standing up for all of us and that's how it should be. Those marriages remind us that's a dream we're fighting for."

Stuart and John plan to renew their vows at City Hall this Valentine's Day.

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