John & Stuart: Newlyweds After 17 – Now 32 – Years Together! Every June, we celebrate LGBTIQ Pride month and the extraordinary contributions LGBTIQ people have made to society. We also recognize past and present struggles of the LGBTIQ community and honor LGBTIQ people who have stood up for their love often in the face of formidable obstacles. Our across-the-street neighbors when we lived in SF, John and Stuart, are two people who have been standing up for love as leaders in the marriage equality movement for the last 15 years. Their journey to ensure that “Love Wins” and that everyone has the freedom to marry the person they love began over 15 years ago, back on February 12, 2004. On that day, Gavin Newsom, who was then the new Mayor of San Francisco (and is now the new Governor of California), decided that San Francisco was no longer going to discriminate against LGBTIQ couples in marriage. He opened the doors of San Francisco City Hall to all loving, committed couples to come and get married, kicking off what came to be known as the “Winter of Love.” I asked John and Stuart to take us back to those incredible days in 2004 and also share part of their personal story of love for over 3 decades and their journey to help make marriage equality the law of the land.. So – tell us what happened on February 12, 2004 in San Francisco. STUART: Back in February 2004 – it may be hard for some younger readers to believe – no same-sex couple had ever been able to marry legally in the United States. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom thought that was unfair – and as a matter of law, unconstitutional. So Newoms decided to arrange for Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, a lesbian couple who had been together for nearly 50 years and who were pioneers in the LGBTIQ movement since the 1950s, to be able to get married in City Hall on the morning of February 12, 2004. Phyllis and Del would be the first, and then other same-sex couples could follow. But Newsom knew he had to keep his plans secret because he knew that opponents of marriage equality would try to stop same-sex couples from getting married as soon as they found out it was happening. So he only told Phyllis and Dell and a few other people inside City Hall. It so happened that February 12 was national Freedom to Marry day, and Marriage Equality USA, unaware of what Newsom was planning inside City Hall, had decided to hold a rally on the steps of City Hall that day to call for same-sex couples to be able to marry. JOHN: The night before, we had decided that we wanted to get involved in the burgeoning marriage equality movement and decided that I would go to the rally because Stuart needed to be at his office downtown all day – and I would report back to Stuart on everything at home that evening. When I got to City Hall for the rally, word had just leaked out about what was going on inside. The head organizer said something that sounded unbelievable to me: “No need for a rally today – you can go into City Hall right now and get married.” “What?!!” I exclaimed. I couldn’t believe it – we could get married?! But I had a problem – a big problem – I was by myself. Stuart was stuck at work – and neither of us owned cell phones. (They were still pretty new in 2004). Fortunately, the organizer lent me hers, and I frantically dialed Stuart’s number to try to catch him at this desk. STUART: I picked up the phone – I had a funny feeling I should stick around my desk that day – and I’ll never forget hearing John shout into the phone: ’GET HERE NOW!!! WE CAN GET MARRIED!’ It the most urgent marriage proposal ever – no time to get down on bended knee, present a ring, or anything like that! And I dropped everything and bolted to City Hall as fast as I could. We had already been together and had been living as a family for nearly 17 years at that point, but without the rights and protections that come with legal marriage. We were thrilled to be able to get married. Shortly thereafter, we were inside the grand and beautiful San Francisco City Hall – the spot Marilyn Monroe and Joe Dimaggio had decided to tie the knot – and we were getting married. JOHN: When I heard the words “By virtue of the power in me vested by the State of California, I now pronounce you spouses for life,” I felt something transform within me, and we as a couple felt something transform within us. I felt chills go up and down my body, and I felt all the parts of me where I had held that I would always be “less than equal” as a gay person and that Stuart and my love would always be “less than equal” dissolve and fall away. And I realized that this moment was the first time in my life that I felt my government was treating me as an equal human being as a gay person and fully embracing and celebrating the bond of love Stuart and I had shared and cultivated at that point for 17 years. We kissed for what a San Francisco Chronicle reporter described as “for a long time” – and we held each other tightly. “Never let you go.” The moment was electric and unforgettable. We had no idea when we woke up that morning that that day would be our wedding day. And there we were – just the two of us -- no time to tell friends of family – in love just as we were since the day we met – and now married. Because we decided to show up to get involved, we found ourselves at the center of it all – and one of the first 10 same-sex couples to marry in the United States. But unfortunately that’s not the end of the story is it? It wasn’t exactly an easy “happily ever after” for the marriage equality movement across the country from that point on?
No – it wasn’t. Six months to the day we got married, the California Supreme Court nullified our marriage and those of over 4,000 couples who had come to San Francisco from all across the country and the world to marry. We were devastated. The Court declared all of our marriages void because it held that the city of San Francisco needed to ask the Court first whether the state law excluding same-sex couples from marriage was unconstitutional before the city could marry gay people. Heterosexual couples could just go to a judge and get married, but same-sex couples had to go to the judges of the California Supreme Court simply to get the right to get married. And that’s what we did. We stood up for love and our family, and days after our marriage was taken away, we and Phyllis and Del, the lesbian couple who had been together for nearly half a century, joined a lawsuit to establish LGBTIQ couples’ right to marry not just in San Francisco, but across California. After 4 long years, the Court ruled in our favor on a gloriously sunny morning in May 2008. The court held that in California same-sex couples, just like everyone else, had the freedom to marry and that discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people was unconstitutional in California. The day the decision took effect a month later, we got married -- this time in tuxes surrounded by friends and family. But sadly, that still wasn’t the end of it. Just months later, a well-financed political campaign was able to use fear and stereotypes to pass Proposition 8, which took away LGBTIQ people’s right to marry in California. It was a horrible nightmare – having millions of people you don’t know vote on whether or not you should be able to be married. Young children of same-sex couples didn’t understand what was going on and thought that Prop 8 would force their parents to separate and their families to break up against their will. The Prop 8 campaign tried to take away our marriage and those of approximately 18,000 couples who had gotten married in California in the summer and fall of 2008. But the court held that referendum did not take away our marriages, and we remained married for good this time around. Same-sex couples and their friends and families went through an incredible rollercoaster ride from 2004 until 2015, when marriage equality finally became the law of the land nationwide by virtue of an historic 2015 US Supreme Court decision. Throughout the struggle, we trusted in the power of love to prevail – and thankfully it did. After the horror of Prop 8, we took great inspiration from the state of Washington when in 2012 it along with 3 other states became the first states in the nation to vote in favor of marriage equality at the ballot box. One of our nieces had just moved to Tacoma to become a freshman at the University of Puget Sound, and we were thrilled that she got to vote on the side of love and equality in her very first election as a voter. Hooray for Washington State helping lead the way! Wow -- that’s quite a journey for you and for the LGBTIQ movement. Committed true love indeed knows no boundaries and should be accepted and welcomed everywhere. We agree – and full acceptance and equality for LGBTIQ people remains yet to be achieved. As we talk today, it’s legal in 26 states to fire a person from their job because they are LGBTIQ. A large percentage of homeless youth are LGBTIQ young people who are forced to live on the streets because their parents have kicked them out of the house for coming out as who they are. And America is just now waking up to the particular challenges that transgender people face and to the full diversity of the LGBTIQ community. We believe the LGBTIQ movement at its heart is about people gaining the opportunity to live authentic and happy lives with love, dignity, and connection regardless of their sexuality, gender, or gender identity. The yearning to live with love, dignity, and connection are at their core universal human values. In that sense, the LGBTIQ movement is truly about all of us -- our common humanity – our common instinct to love and connect. Around Valentine’s Day we celebrate romantic love – but, if we allow it, Valentine’s Day can be about so much more, just as it was 15 years ago in San Francisco. If fact, this past Valentine’s Day, same-sex couples in Japan filed a lawsuit very similar to ours to recognize the universality of love and our common humanity – and to make marriage equality the law of the land in Japan. We hope “Love Wins” in Japan in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – that would be something great to celebrate! So when did Cupid’s Arrow strike the two of you? JOHN: We met nearly 32 years ago – back in March 1987 – at a small political house party during a local congressional campaign. We admit it – we’re kind of political geeks. Stuart worked on his first presidential campaign on his own when he was 10 years old. I started collecting political memorabilia and was glued to the TV watching the presidential nominating conventions before 5th grade. In March 1987, I went to the house party with friends and was about to leave with them when I turned around instead, and said to myself: “I’m new to San Francisco and I need to take a risk and stay at this party where I know no one if I’m ever going to meet someone to go out with.” As my friends left, I walked right over to the host, who immediately introduced me to Stuart. We started talking then and were the last to leave the party. We have been together ever since. STUART: Shortly after John and I met and even before our first date, I told my old college roommate who was visiting SF at the time, “I think I’ve met my future husband” -- even though it was unfathomable back in 1987 that same-sex couples would ever be able to get married. It was still a crime in many states just to be gay. Little did we know the amazing road that lay ahead for us. And John and I acknowledge that our first date was extraordinarily romantic – NOT! We went to the candidates debate together. Actually, you know it’s true love when you both want to go to the candidates debate! Afterwards, we had a yummy dinner of Chinese greens, black mushrooms and tofu together at a local restaurant. Sounds delicious – and very healthy! You’ve been together for 32 years now. How have you kept your relationship and marriage exciting and successful for over 3 decades? Aside from eating kale, chard, gailan (Chinese broccoli) and other wonderful foods that we get every Saturday morning at our local farmer’s market …. the abiding love and respect we have for each other is foundational. We really try to be kind to each other even when we are arguing or disagreeing. JOHN: From the beginning, I tried to bring a commitment to be fully truthful in the relationship and to cultivate the skill to do so constructively. I wanted no secrets between us -- and a commitment to striving to talk directly to each other about potential problems and challenges so that we would not harbor resentment or go behind each other’s backs. Shortly before we met, a good friend of mine came home to his apartment after work one day to find his girlfriend in their bed with another man. She further revealed to my friend that she had gone to all of their favorite romantic restaurants and spots with the other man as well. Needless to say, the deception undermined trust between the two of them. My friend’s experience was a cautionary tale for us, and we feel very lucky to say that we know we can trust each other completely. STUART: I tried to bring a commitment to stability and unconditional love in the relationship, which proved an essential container and compliment to John’s ability to raise and discuss difficult issues. Without the trust and commitment of unconditional love for each other, it would have been impossible to communicate honestly and deepen our experience of love and trust for each other. We have also shared marvelous adventures and life experiences together. Over 25 years ago, we both quit our jobs and backpacked around the world together for a year, traveling through many parts of Asia and Africa. We realized near the end of the trip, we had spent literally every waking and sleeping minute of the year together, except for one hour when John needed to find a doctor for me when I was very ill in India. When we got back to the US, many of our friends tried to ask us tactfully whether we were still together as a couple after all that time together – or did we get sick of each other! We responded that the year together was fantastic. Traveling the world together, visiting extraordinary places and meeting amazing people was a wonderful thing for our relationship. Our journey together working for marriage equality has also been a very meaningful thing for us to do as a couple. Our message has always centered on love and common humanity. Talking about these values is self-sustaining. We discovered a secret to marriage equality activism – it’s inherently romantic – at its heart it’s telling our love story and others telling theirs over and over again – and every time we do, we get to relive it and rekindle our love. If there is one thing you have the power to change in this world to make it better, what will that be?
What comes to mind is the truth of the wisdom in the Quote section of the Grinning Cat website. The movement for LGBTIQ dignity and acceptance and marriage equality is about celebrating each person’s individual “unique” spirit and being. Many LGBTIQ people, regardless of their gender, would be happy to say, “Everyone has an inner goddess just waiting to burst out!” Equality at its core is all about “kindness.” Each of us and our government and society choosing to treat people with fairness and equality is ultimately about our treating each other with kindness. In our work for marriage equality and LGBTIQ rights, we decided we didn’t want to “wait for change” to come from somewhere else. We aspired to “BE the change” and to inspire others to do the same as others have inspired us. And do so with a “smile.” So much that seems unimaginable is possible if we set aside our fears in the many ways they may manifest, truly choose kindness and honesty, and act with skill and respect for each other.