Op-ed: Why Gavin Newsom Is as Much a Gay Rights Hero as Harvey Milk

If you live in California and plan to marry now, you owe him a heap of thanks for paving the way.



Above: After we got married with hundreds of other same-sex couples in 2004 at San Francisco City Hall

Suzy and I both wore white dresses and carried flowers. Our maid of honor, Athena, and best man, Jeff, were witnesses, and when we were pronounced spouses for life we both cried a bit. Then we both turned to the TV cameras and told CBS why this day, technically my second wedding ceremony, had the most impact.

The marriage was never legal, but it was a rallying cry that meant domestic partnership would now never be enough.

We had a reception, a store-bought cake, a party with friends. We sent our family photos afterwards and let them know what happened. I don’t know if we got responses or not, but if we did, they were not filled with giant wedding gifts and congratulation cards.

Nearly a decade after we met, Newsom, Brown’s protégé, had grown on me. During his 2003 mayoral campaign and as he presided over the cirty, he shared some great ideas about rights for the LGBT community. I was still shocked when, a month after he took office, someone called me and said, “Gavin Newsom’s office just called you. He is going to be marrying people. Del and Phyllis are first.”

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon were lesbian institutions in San Francisco and legends in lesbian publishing. They were together 55 years before Martin passed away in 2008; founded the first lesbian political organization, the Daughters of Bilitis, in 1955; edited The Ladder (the first real lesbian magazine); and had served the National Organization for Women as the first lesbian couple to do so. They remained active, serving on the White House Conference on Aging. Martin even led the charge in demanding that the American Psychiatric Association stop treating homosexuality as a mental illness. I got teary-eyed knowing they’d finally be legally wed.

And I wanted it for myself. So we threw on clothes and ran to the car. Everyone at my office was crying, racing from our South of Market building to San Francisco City Hall. Everyone was afraid to slow down; we had no idea how long this would last, before City Hall or some state official shut us down and called it all off.

The lines in, out, and around City Hall were enormous, but they were joyful and terrifically festive. As we all waited hours (many, many hours), florists began arriving and giving us all bouquets. Turns out strangers from around the country were ordering flowers to randomly deliver to the same-sex couples getting married. Everybody was suddenly friends with everyone; we all knew that this was history in the making.

New York has Stonewall, but San Francisco has City Hall, which has been the site of so many LGBT history-making moments. Sadly, it’s where Harvey Milk and George Moscone were assassinated in 1978. But in 2004 we reclaimed City Hall for them and the global LGBT community by demanding our marriage rights — something neither man had probably even imagined possible in their time.

Once we made it into the gorgeous gilded rotunda from outside City Hall, we could hear other people getting married. They were everywhere, most having short ceremonies right there. Religious leaders, especially from the Unitarian Universalists and Metropolitan Community Church but also others from relgions as diverse as Judaism and Wicca, were on hand to help marry couples. Each time two people were declared “Spouses for life” a cheer would go up around then. Each wedding was a stake in the battle for full equality and we knew it.

People from around the country began flying in and driving in, everyone not knowing if they’d make it in time. But as so much joy filled City Hall, Newsom began taking hits from critics; conservatives thought it was the apocalypse (of course), and some LGBT groups though his actions worked against establishing marriage equality. I did not. I thought it was brilliant. On March 11, after San Francisco had married about 4,000 couples, the California Supreme Court stopped the weddings, and five months later it voided our marriages.