Grand marshals: Couple on the marriage bandwagon

  • by Cynthia Laird
  • Tuesday June 19, 2007
Share this Post:

Marriage equality advocates Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis celebrate their 20th anniversary this year, and on Sunday, they will lead their contingent as community grand marshals for the LGBT Pride Parade.

The personal is political for Gaffney, 44, and Lewis, 48, who spent their first date at a candidate forum. "Few people have gone on their first date with Nancy Pelosi," joked Gaffney, referring to the debate between Pelosi, now House speaker, and the openly gay Harry Britt, then president of the Board of Supervisors, when they ran against each other for an open congressional seat.

The couple, who were one of the first to marry in San Francisco City Hall on February 12, 2004, spent their honeymoon in the offices of the American Civil Liberties Union. They are plaintiffs in the California marriage case that is before the state's high court.

"The one thing we could add to the lawsuit," said Lewis, "is that we know what it's like to be married and have equality under the law and have that taken away."

Gaffney, who is biracial, also speaks frequently about his parents, who as an interracial couple experienced marriage discrimination. His mother, who is Chinese American, married his father, who is Caucasian, in California after the state Supreme Court struck down the prohibition on interracial marriage in 1948. It would be another 19 years before the U.S. Supreme Court did the same thing, in the famous Loving v. Virginia case, which was decided 40 years ago this month.

Gaffney and Lewis see the fight for equal marriage rights "as a huge coming out for our relationships – taking pride in our relationships."

And the men noted that the LGBT community is now beginning to see the fruits of the 2004 San Francisco marriages, with states such as Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Oregon passing civil union or domestic partner laws. New Jersey also has civil unions, and California has had a statewide domestic partner registry for several years.

But while those advances are important, Gaffney cautions against growing complacent. "I think we need to be careful not to sell ourselves short, but recognize that domestic partnerships or civil unions are benefiting people."

The men said that getting married made a difference in their lives.

"I think it was profound for both of us getting married in San Francisco," said Lewis. "As gay men, we really felt for the first time that our government was treating us as human beings."

"At my first Pride Parade 22 years ago, I was going through my coming out process," added Lewis. "I thought, I don't see how my life can manifest in a happy way. And I think one reason was I didn't see visible role models of what I wanted – a committed relationship."

The men recognize that marriage isn't something everyone in the community wants for themselves, but think that most see the big picture.

"I think we can all agree on the need to level the playing field, to have access to the same rights," Gaffney said.

One thing Gaffney and Lewis are doing, through their work with Marriage Equality USA, is taking their message to other communities, even those who may not be receptive, at least initially.

"Not being scared is important," said Gaffney. "It's really personal work and you can feel vulnerable. But we're moving forward with a lot of pride."