The Happiest Place on Earth

at 11:35 PM
Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

Ten years ago today, the first day of San Francisco's "Winter of Love," I was attending a freedom-to-marry rally on the City Hall steps when I was astonished to learn that San Francisco had just opened the door of marriage for all.  Afraid a court might close that door at any moment, I phoned my partner of 17 years, Stuart, and in what he describes as the most urgent wedding proposal ever, yelled, "Get here now!!"  He dashed to City Hall, we bolted through the front door, and a half hour later, exchanged vows.

The words "by virtue of the authority vested in me by the State of California, I now pronounce you spouses for life," transformed us. For the first time our government treated us as fully equal and recognized us as a loving couple worthy of the law's full respect. Through chills and tears I said to Stuart, "this is what it feels like to be equal."

Although the California Supreme Court later declared our marriage and thousands others "null and void," a revolution for love and recognition of our common humanity had been ignited.

And the equality we tasted that day sustained us through the ups and downs of the next 10 years.

The government of San Francisco, led by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, took a huge risk for LGBT people. We had never experienced this before. San Francisco's principled stand for our  rights set an example and connected us to the broader community. We now belonged.


The marriages opened America's eyes to the diverse faces of same-sex couples, their families, and friends. We came out about our relationships like never before. Marriage equality became the topic of dinner table conversations -- intimate, not abstract conversations -- across the county.  What took place here inspired those who experienced it and those who witnessed it to get involved as never before.

Love and joy is integral to few equal rights movements. This day a decade ago prompted then-County Recorder Mabel Teng to describe San Francisco as the "happiest place on earth."  

My husband and I agree.

With a Perspective, I'm John Lewis.

John Lewis and his husband, Stuart Gaffney, became plaintiffs in the case that prompted the state Supreme Court to establish marriage equality in California. They now work with Marriage Equality USA.