SF mayor, officials celebrate 20th anniversary of 'Winter of Love'

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday February 14, 2024
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San Francisco drag laureate D'Arcy Drollinger, center, officiated over the marriage of Jorge Jimenez, left, and Scott Wilson, February 14 during the city's celebration of the 20th anniversary of the "Winter of Love." Photo: John Ferrannini
San Francisco drag laureate D'Arcy Drollinger, center, officiated over the marriage of Jorge Jimenez, left, and Scott Wilson, February 14 during the city's celebration of the 20th anniversary of the "Winter of Love." Photo: John Ferrannini

Same-sex couples sat next to one another as San Francisco Mayor London Breed recalled that magical moment 20 years ago when they could wed at City Hall.

The "Winter of Love," sparked by then-mayor Gavin Newsom ordering city officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, ushered in a month of joy before the weddings were halted by the California Supreme Court.

On Valentine's Day, Breed and other city officials recalled the historic time. Afterward, same-sex couples married or renewed their vows.

D'Arcy Drollinger, the city's drag laureate, married Scott Wilson and Jorge Jimenez after Breed presided over a renewal of wedding vows between San Francisco Pride Executive Director Suzanne Ford and her wife, Beverly Ford, and between John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, two gay men who were married the first day same-sex weddings were conducted at City Hall on February 12, 2004.

"I'm already married 22 years, but the first time we got married as man and wife," Ford, a trans woman, told the Bay Area Reporter. "We renewed our vows after 10 years."

Lewis and Gaffney were featured in a B.A.R. story February 8 recalling the historic events from 20 years ago. Breed said nearly 200 couples were getting married at City Hall on Valentine's Day. She'd solicited interested couples, whether same-sex or opposite-sex, to sign up via her Threads account several weeks ago.

Mayor London Breed, center, renewed the wedding vows of San Francisco Pride Executive Director Suzanne Ford, right, and her spouse, Beverly, during the February 14 "Winter of Love" 20th anniversary event at City Hall. Photo: John Ferrannini  

"City Hall is the place to be every Valentine's Day," she said, noting the large number of couples getting married and taking pictures throughout the Beaux Arts building. "What is the common thread that brings us here today? The power of love."

The event was also a reunion of sorts for those who fought the marriage equality fight. The San Francisco City Attorney's office not only defended the city when the marriages started, but sued the state afterward alleging the state of California was discriminating. The case went to the state Supreme Court and the city won, but in November 2008, the voters decided to pass Proposition 8, amending the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

That, too, was challenged in court during a federal trial in 2010 that declared Prop 8 unconstitutional. (Then-federal judge Vaughn Walker presided over that trial and publicly came out as gay afterward.)

After appealing to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the trial court, in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the court ruling vacating Prop 8 to go into effect, determining those defending the proposition lacked standing to appeal. (Under then-state attorney general Kamala Harris, the state of California would not defend Prop 8 against the suit. Harris is now vice president.) Two years later, in 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the discriminatory laws of the states that had not, on their own, legalized same-sex marriage.

Among those who spoke at City Hall was Dennis Herrera, who was city attorney at the time.

"San Francisco knows how to celebrate — how to celebrate love and Valentine's Day," he said. "This is a terrific reminder of the fight we fought 20 years ago."

José Cisneros, a gay man who is the city's elected treasurer, said he was a city employee back in 2004 when he was deputized to perform marriages, including 30 one day that first weekend.

"You've never seen this building look the way it did that day," he said. "Anywhere you looked you could see a wedding going on."

Matt Dorsey, a gay man who now represents District 6 on the city's Board of Supervisors, was Herrera's press liaison at the time.

"We as a city, as a city attorney's office, put discrimination on trial," Dorsey said. "It was the first time a government argued a compelling state interest."

Dorsey said that "no court had ever seen this kind of stuff." Speaking to the B.A.R. at the event held on the mayor's balcony, Dorsey said he not only remembers the joy of when the same-sex marriages were going on, but the sadness when they stopped.

"The day after the [state] Supreme Court stopped the marriages, the next morning, it was like a mausoleum in here," he said. "Thank God we can look back in hindsight that we finally saw marriage equality."

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