Pictured Del Martin (right) and Phyllis Lyon celebrated the 50th Anniversary At Historic Castro Theatre with the World Film Premiere of No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon one year ago. They were appropriately the very first couple legally married in the U.S. during the recent same-sex marriage battles. Photo by Jane Cleland, special to Woman Vision © 2003. Chicago couple Evette Cardona and Mona Noriega at the Lambda Legal Freedom to Marry Day celebration Feb. 12. Photo by Israel Wright
This has been a historically exhilarating week for gay marriage. The Massachusetts legislature deadlocked over a possible amendment to that state's constitution to ban it, while the floodgates opened, albeit perhaps temporarily, for thousands to wed in San Francisco's City Hall.
Supporters on both sides of the issue rallied outside the State House as a joint session of the Massachusetts legislature met on Feb. 11 to consider amending the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage.
In a surprise move at the start of the session, House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, a Democrat, offered an amendment to ban gay marriage but allow the legislature to create civil unions at some later date. It had the support of Republican Gov. Mitt Romney.
But the tactic was seen as a power grab by the Speaker and perhaps contributed to its failing by the narrowest of margins, 100-98.
That led to a proposal by Senate leaders, Democrat Robert E. Travaglini and Republican Brian P. Lees, that would still ban gay marriage but authorize civil unions. When it failed by a vote of 104-94, the legislators adjourned for the night.
Back the next day, openly gay state Sen. Jarrett T. Barrios told the convention of the difficulty he had when taking his sick seven-year-old adopted son to the hospital emergency room. He said, 'If this were to pass, I would be denied basic human rights that most of you don't even know that you have.'
A motion to adjourn by pro-gay Republican Rep. Shaun P. Kelly failed 153-44. It looked like a compromise amendment was being pulled together that might pass. But a filibuster by pro-gay forces for the last hour and a half of the session prevented a vote and the convention adjourned at midnight.
A healthy majority of the legislators clearly remain uncomfortable with the prospect of allowing gays and lesbians to marry, but no one has been able to take that sentiment and cobble together a majority that would change the constitution.
Thus, through its inability to change the situation, the legislators have conceded to the state Supreme Judicial Court, which found that the state constitution requires that all citizens of the Bay State be treated equally when it comes to marriage.
The Boston Globe editorialized, 'There is a plain and powerful reason that legislators at the constitutional convention had such difficulty reaching compromise on an amendment that would ban gay marriage: Civil rights cannot be compromised.'
'We have managed so far to dodge several bullets,' said Arline Isaacson, cochair of the Massachusetts Lesbian and Gay Political Caucus. 'We've made it through one more day.' The legislators return to again consider amending the constitution on March 11.
'Regardless of what comes out of the process, the fact that we have a process that involves the elected representatives of the people is a very laudable thing,' Gov. Romney told the Globe. It is possible that this represents a softening of the charge by Romney and others that 'activist judges' are imposing gay marriage upon the state.
Meanwhile, a plan was quietly being put together in San Francisco. Newly elected mayor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, had sat in the U.S. House of Representatives as a guest when President George W. Bush delivered his state of the union address in January. He seethed at Bush's remarks on gay marriage.
Back in San Francisco, on his direction, the wording on marriage licenses was changed from bride and groom to 'first applicant' and 'second applicant.' California had adopted model gender-neutral marriage language in the 1970s, as had many other states, but that was changed back when antigay zealots pushed through Proposition 22 in 2000 to ban gay marriage.
The city's lawyers believe that the equal protection section of the state constitution renders Prop 22 unconstitutional and justifies their issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Shortly before noon, on Feb. 12, San Francisco lesbian icons Del Martin, 83, and Phyllis Lyon, 79, became the first couple granted the marriage licenses in city hall. It was just in time for the pair to celebrate their 51st year together, on Valentine's Day.
Their celebratory photo was splashed across the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle, and the floodgates opened. Gay and lesbian couples, many with kids in tow, rushed to city hall to get married. Many of them had been together for decades.
Two groups of homophobes went to court on Friday the 13th seeking an injunction to stop the marriages. The judges ruled on the procedural question of notification and set a hearing date for the next business day, which because of the Presidents' Day holiday, was Feb. 17, and deferred any decision on an injunction until then.
The mayor's planning had paid off, a window of opportunity remained open. He announced that the city bureau would stay open over the long weekend to conduct marriages, and gay couples lined up by the hundreds.
'We normally do about 20-30 couples a day, but we're doing about 50-60 an hour,' said Mabel Teng, San Francisco's Assessor-Recorder who supervises that office. She began turning away couples on Saturday when it became apparent the office could not handle the load, and asked them to come back on Monday.
Thousands would wed before the weekend was over.
'This is a Valentine's Day weekend for the history books,' said Jon Davidson, an attorney with Lambda Legal in California. 'The long lines outside city offices all day show that lesbian and gay couples need the protections marriage provides.' It vowed to defend the marriages in court.
'Something is happening out there. Instead of begging for the basic right to marry, gay couples are now demanding it,' wrote gay conservative Andrew Sullivan on his blog. 'This will alter the debate ... and when the religious right try to strip us of those marriages, and force us back into second-class status, then we will see something else: resistance.'
While most gays and lesbians were elated by scenes from the marriages being played out in San Francisco, that reaction was not universal.
Openly gay congressman Barney Frank, D-Mass., found out about the plans ahead of time when Newsom shared them with a few California political leaders. According to the Chronicle, the veteran gay representative called the Mayor and told him to 'drop the idea—the time wasn't right.'
A reported pending endorsement of the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) by George W. Bush again failed to materialize as predicted by social conservatives.
Leading Democratic contender Sen. John F. Kerry continued to do his own shuffling on the issue, suggesting that his position on the FMA might depend on the final language that is proposed. There is confusion as to whether it would ban just gay marriage or also civil unions.
Political talk show host Bill Maher wrote in the Feb. 14 Boston Globe, 'The greater shame in this story goes to the Democrats, because they don't believe that homosexuality is an 'abomination,' and therefore their refusal to endorse gay marriage is hypocrisy. The right are true believers, but the Democrats are merely pretending that they believe gays are not entitled to the same state-sanctioned misery as the rest of us. The Democrats' position doesn't come from the Bible, it's ripped right from the latest poll, which says that most Americans are against gay marriage.'
Many people from other states, including as far away as New York, were making their way to San Francisco to be legally wed. This could cause hundreds of lawsuits across the country.
The move by the San Francisco mayor—going against recent anti-marriage laws but saying it follows the state's constitution—will likely head for a legal challenge in that state's Supreme court.
Illinois gays are fighting for a simple gay civil-rights law and against two anti-gay marriage amendment proposals to the state's constitution. Therefore, activists doubt the San Francisco mayor's move will be duplicated here anytime soon.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that in 1975, former Boulder, Colo., County Clerk Clela Rorex changed the words 'male' and 'female' to 'person' on the county's marriage license application and allowed six same-sex couples to wed. None of the licenses has held up in court—but not all were challenged. At least one of the four gay male couples celebrated their 25-year wedding anniversary a few years ago.
For nearly three decades in Chicago, activists have staged marry-ins at the Cook County Clerk's office, seeking licenses. Some have sued, others have been arrested. Last fall, the Clerk began issue domestic-partnership certificates after the Cook County Board passed a same-sex registry law.