Prop. 8 ruling: Crowd celebrates outside S.F. courthouse
Same-sex marriage proponents began gathering early Tuesday morning in front of the federal courthouse in San Francsico, hopeful and nervous, waiting for the Proposition 8 decision under threatening clouds.
At first there were more reporters than supporters, but as the clock neared 10 a.m. -- the time that the U.S. 9th Circuit Court's ruling would be announced -- the crowd grew.
John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney wore matching heart stickers on their gray jackets and together carried the hopeful sign, “John + Stuart, 25 Years Together. Our Silver Anniversary Wish: The Freedom to Marry For All.”
As couples gathered in front of the cameras, David Bowers of San Francisco shouted to the crowd: “If you have a wedding ring, make sure it shows!”
At 9:45, the first chant went up, “What do we want?”
“When do we want it?”
The second was a nod to the momentous decision about to be handed down: “What do we want?”
“When do we want it?”
“At 10 a.m.!”
But Teresa Rowe wasn’t having any.
“Now!” she shouted. “I don’t want to wait 40 more minutes!”
Sara Callow of Los Gatos brought her sign-wielding brood to the courthouse early -- Katherine, 8, Maggie, 9, and Michael, 6.
Maggie, the spokeswoman for the small group of small demonstrators, bore a big smile and a sign that read, “Marriage is a Basic Civil Right.” She and her family came out in the drizzly morning, she said, “to see the decision made by the 9th Court, to see whether it’s OK to have gay marriage. I think that gay people should be allowed to marry.”
Shortly before 10, the crowd gathered in a circle around the Rev. Stacy Boorn, a Lutheran minister, who appealed to “the sacred presence who is indeed here today” to influence the court “to make it legal for all people to be married in your grace. Amen.”
Then a voice was heard over the teeming crowd. A woman watching for updates on a laptop computer shouted out: “The gay marriage ban is unconstitutional!” And a cheer went up.
Said Boorn: “It’s the first time my prayer worked!”
Gaffney, who with his husband was involved in the first San Francisco gay marriage court case, hollered: “Happy Valentine’s Day, California!”
“California has once again made marriage history,” he said, beaming. “We already knew in our hearts that Proposition 8 violated the rule of love. We’re so happy to see that the 9th Circuit says it violates the rule of law.
“It’s been a long road,” he said. “We want to see our friends who haven’t been able to marry since Election Day 2008 celebrate their happily ever afters. This brings those wedding days one day closer.”
The celebration began at the corner of Seventh and Mission streets in front of the federal courthouse, where the ruling was handed down. Led by a phalanx of ministers singing “We Shall Overcome,” rainbow stoles brightening their black robes, the party proceeded toward City Hall, where the fight for marriage equality began eight years ago, almost to the day.
That’s where then-Mayor Gavin Newsom began marrying same-sex couples in defiance of the law -- until he was stopped by the California Supreme Court. That body later moved to dissolve every marriage that took place in the graceful Beaux Arts building here.
On Tuesday, city officials spoke glowingly of the latest ruling beside a heart-shaped sculpture inscribed with the names of the couples who were joined in matrimony one day, only to see their unions negated the next.
Del + Phyllis. Ross + Ian. Ingrid + Dolores. Arnaldo + Lucas.
“I want to express gratitude to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for its ruling today, which strikes a devastating blow to the legal defense of Proposition 8,” said an emotional Dennis Herrera, who as city attorney has been involved in the fight for marriage equality since 2004.
“Their thorough and well-reasoned decision revealed marriage discrimination for what it is, discrimination,” Herrera said. “And it powerfully affirms the U.S. Constitution’s promise of equal protection under the law.”
Mayor Ed Lee recalled watching, awestruck, as the first marriages were performed here, “as we knew we were on the right side of history.”
At the time, he said, “I was quietly going through as county clerk getting the marriages ready. We’re going to do the same thing. We’re getting ready. Your constitutional rights shouldn’t have to wait. They really should not have to wait for everybody else to catch up.”
Lee said he had already instructed San Francisco’s county clerk to get in touch with counterparts statewide so that future weddings can go off smoothly when the stay is lifted.
But some were impatient Tuesday morning. After the decision was handed down, Tom Murray looked up and said to no one in particular, “Now I have to start planning my wedding.”
“I asked my partner to marry me on Christmas Day,” said the 42-year-old San Franciscan. “We were planning on having a long, old-fashioned engagement. With it legal, we’re one step closer.
“It’ll be a fun day in San Francisco.”
-- Maria L. LaGanga in San Francisco
Photo: Breana Hansen, left, and Monica Chacon celebrate the U.S. 9th Circuit Court's Proposition 8 ruling outside San Francisco City Hall. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images