Spring 1995, I’m writing an article for my law school’s Law Review — “Same-Sex Marriage Makes It To The Altar — Who’s Got The License?” I laid out a constitutional argument for what was then a novel idea. Hawaii was on the verge of being the first state in the nation to allow gays and lesbians to marry. It was killed by the religious right — mostly the Mormons who have a strong foothold in Hawaii.
Feb.24, 2004 — I write for the Santa Monica Daily Press — “One Man’s Courage Could Become The Majority.” San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom instructed the City Clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses to the gay and lesbian couples who apply for them. There’s a Gold Rush of men and women who flock to San Francisco City Hall wishing to solemnize their love.
The actions taken by then Mayor Newsom are the spark that brought us through a rollercoaster ride of emotions in California. We had gay marriage, then we didn’t, now we do. And we led the country in an awakening.
Yes other states accomplished this civil rights landmark before us, but that was a reaction to what was started here.
Before Newsom there was Harvey Milk. He led protests and demanded equality.
Before Harvey Milk there was Harry Hay and Frank Kameny. They led protests against police brutality, and demanded equality in the 1950s.
The road has been long, convoluted and painful.
As a budding lawyer in Santa Monica, I was hopeful that one day the Supreme Court would rule in favor of same-sex marriage along the philosophical lines that were drawn in the 1967 ruling of Loving v. Virginia which validated the marriages of blacks and whites. But I was also living in the shadow of AIDS.
The disease that took so many young, creative, amazing gay men casts a long shadow in my life. In the late ’80s and early ’90s there was a common “joke” going around, “Do you know what GAY stands for? Got AIDS Yet?” That’s what being gay meant. It was a death sentence. There was no love; there was fear, anger, disgust, and mocking of gay people. It fueled hurt, self recrimination, and a sense of outsiderness that crept into my bones and soul and I am still rooting it out.
It was the source of much self-hatred, for me and for many in the gay community. So the prospect that an outlier state like Hawaii could change America was a welcome relief; alas it was not to be.
Times change and people grow wiser. The role that gay men played in the media changed, from subject of ridicule to leading man. As more people came out, more people came out. It was an unintended effect of the stigma of AIDS, hurt and anger became the fuel for change as organizations and service centers were built to take care of the dying, because our government could not be counted on to do so.
In 2008 when the nightmare of Proposition 8 was upon us, two other men stepped up, Ted Olsen and David Boies, considered by some to be the top lawyers in the country, these two had faced off in the 2000 Bush/Gore Supreme Court battle but joined to fight for the cause of gay marriage.
As Olsen and Boies prepared to fight at the Federal level using the same strategy that I thought of in 1995, it was with great hope that I watched them do battle with the advocates on the other side. Knowing that two of the greatest legal minds our country ever produced were fighting for our rights was very comforting. I watched the documentary and the play that was written about the Proposition 8 hearings with rapt attention. I listened to the audio of Supreme Court hearings over the Internet because I knew that history was being made.
It’s been a long road on the one hand, 65 years in the making, and I’ve often felt that the task was too great, the forces against us were too strong, but today I thank Gavin Newsom, David Boies, Ted Olsen and the many, many litigants, advocates and participants in the battle for marriage equality.
Today I feel equal in a way that I’ve never felt before.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles divorce and child custody lawyer specializing in fathers’ and men’s rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 310/664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra.