Inside a City Hall building lit up in rainbow colors and in front of a large rainbow flag atop the stairs of the Rotunda, San Francisco today celebrated the 10-year anniversary of its “Winter of Love” when marriage licenses were first issued to same-sex couples.
Lt. Gov. and former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom joined current Mayor Ed Lee and more than 100 people at a ceremony at City Hall this evening to mark the passing of a decade since Newsom issued a directive on Feb. 12, 2004, ordering the county clerk’s office to issue the marriage licenses.
“People from all across the city, from 46 states and six nations, 4,036 couples came together to do something no more extraordinary than to say ‘I do,’” Newsom said today.
The marriages were later annulled by the California Supreme Court and years of court battles followed over the right of same-sex couples to wed. Same-sex marriage was briefly legalized again by the state Supreme Court in 2008 before California voters passed Proposition 8 later that year, barring such unions.
Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling on a constitutional challenge to Proposition 8 and the judges left in place a lower court ruling striking down the ban. Same-sex marriage is now legal in California and 16 other states.
“None of us expected what was going to happen,” Newsom said.
He added, “We still have a hell of a lot of work to do … 17 states isn’t 50 states.”
Lee gave Newsom a key to the city, noting it was the first time he received one after giving out many as mayor. “He took a stand against injustice and changed history right here in this Hall,” Lee said.
Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, recalled learning of Newsom’s plans in 2004.
“It felt really risky,” Kendell said. “What an amazing thing we started and look where we are.”
Deputy City Attorney Therese Stewart, who argued on behalf of same-sex marriage for the city in the federal case against Proposition 8, called Newsom’s directive “a really courageous stance” and “a visionary act.”
Earlier today, dozens of same-sex couples went to the county clerk’s office at City Hall to thank the workers there for also supporting marriage equality.
Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis, who got married during the initial rush of weddings in 2004, led the group as they sang the famous Burt Bacharach and Hal David song “What the World Needs Now is Love.”
The couple and other members of the advocacy group Marriage Equality USA sang the same song on Valentine’s Day in previous years and staged sit-ins to protest the lack of same-sex marriage rights.
“It put a face on the exclusion and discrimination we’ve faced all this time,” Lewis said.
Billy Bradford wiped away tears as he walked out of the clerk’s office.
Bradford said he stood in the same hallway in 2004 as couples were married as well as in several later years when they were turned away and sometimes arrested at the sit-ins.
“It’s a very emotional thing to be told no so many times and that something’s wrong with you,” he said.
“Now we don’t have to get arrested, we can get married,” he said.
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