San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee surprised his former boss, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, with the key to the city Wednesday night to honor his leadership in the fight for marriage equality.
The presentation came during a celebration the two straight politicians held under the historic rotunda of City Hall last night (February 12) to mark the the 10th anniversary of when Newsom, who was mayor at the time, decided to allow same-sex couples to marry despite state laws banning such ceremonies.
Known as the “Winter of Love,” San Francisco officials wed 4,037 couples over the course of four weeks in February and March of 2004 early in Newsom’s mayoralty. His decision is now heralded as jump-starting a national conversation about same-sex marriage that has led to 17 states and the District of Columbia allowing same-sex couples to wed, with more than a dozen lawsuits seeking to overturn anti-gay marriage laws in states across the country.
In presenting Newsom with the over-sized gold key, Lee said it was to honor his “being a champion of civil rights in our city.”
A genuinely surprised Newsom responded, “I didn’t see this coming. That’s great, that’s great. It’s surreal, all those years for handing these things out, it means a lot.”
Newsom thanked the couples who flocked to the city a decade ago to marry for their “courage” to do so, noting that otherwise “we wouldn’t be here.”
He joked that he “didn’t want to politicize” the marriages, which many derisively called a political stunt at the time, so he “remained in my office” away from the media spotlight throughout much of those four weeks. Newsom privately wed just three couples, two being those of top aides, in 2004.
The California Supreme Court annulled the 2004 weddings but opened the door for a legal challenge to the state’s homophobic marriage statutes. City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office took the lead on that litigation, leading to the court’s 2008 ruling declaring LGBT people had a right to legally marry.
(The decision prompted the passage of Proposition 8 in November of 2008 and federal litigation aimed at overturning the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage the voters had passed. Last June the U. S. Supreme Court struck down Prop 8 on a technicality.)
Jewelle Gomez and her wife, Diane Sabin, married in 2004 and were a party to one of four state lawsuits filed by same-sex couples seeking the right to marriage in the Golden State. Speaking at last night’s celebration, Gomez thanked the numerous city staffers, from county clerks to janitors and peace officers, for their unsung efforts during the Winter of Love.
“You were our guardian angels,” said Gomez. “They weren’t all queer people, they were people who worked here and felt a part of the city and county of San Francisco.”
Noting that the fight for marriage equality remains a global endeavor, Gomez said “there is still work to do until Sochi becomes a queer wedding and honeymoon retreat as it should be.”
It was a reference to the 2014 Winter Olympics currently being held in the Russian resort on the Black Sea and the controversial anti-gay laws Russian leaders adopted last year that that makes it a crime to “promote” homosexuality to minors and bans international adoptions by same-sex couples and unmarried people in countries with marriage equality.
In protest of the laws, Lee said the facade of City Hall will remain bathed in rainbow-colored lights throughout the duration of the Olympic games, which come to a close Sunday, February 23.
“The lights will continue to shine through the last day of the Sochi Olympics,” Lee declared last night.