My 89-year-old dad passed away last week. He was a marvelous person – and an intrepid love warrior throughout his life. When I was born in 1958, my dad told my mother that he would like to be the one who got up in the middle of the night to feed me. My mother agreed, and my dad always described our time together during those feedings as sheer joy. “We were having so much fun that you didn’t want to go back to sleep, and neither did I.”
Many years later, Stuart and I married at San Francisco City Hall on February 12, 2004, and I called my parents in Kansas City that evening to let them know. Before I could get a word out, my dad interrupted, exclaiming: “We saw what was happening in San Francisco on the news. Were you there? Did you get married?!” Just a few weeks before, my dad had heard then-President George Bush’s anti-gay pronouncements in the 2004 State of Union address, and I remember him telling me that it felt as if the President of the United States had attacked our family before the nation.
I came out to my parents back in the early 1980s. In many ways, I had it very easy: my dad was then a professor of counseling psychology with semi-out colleagues; and my mother, also a university professor, had hung out in gay bars in Amsterdam with her gay friends in the 1950s. Despite my parents’ experience and intellectual understanding, my coming out process, however, presented challenges for them emotionally. Over time, they overcame them, embraced Stuart and other friends, and for years sent me clippings of every gay-related article they saw in the newspaper. They even apologized to me for failing to be sensitive to what I had experienced growing up and asked my forgiveness.
My mother had passed away by the time Stuart and I were able to wed legally in June 2008, but my dad proudly attended the celebration at City Hall. Last March, I visited my dad at his retirement community in Chicago before going to Washington, DC, for the Supreme Court hearings in the marriage equality cases. My dad had told all his friends and many staff all about it, and that I had co-authored an amicus brief before the Court. When I arrived, marriage equality and LGBT rights seemed to be the talk of the community. His friends now refer to Stuart as my husband.
The Lewis family came to America from Wales in the late 17th century to escape religious persecution as Quakers. When they arrived, they started a book in which they wrote down every member of the family born in the New World. My dad has the book today. In one of our last conversations, he asked me to get the book and to make sure that Stuart’s name was included in it. It is. My dad, born a kind, joyful, caring, and thoughtful spirit, was a love warrior to the end.
John Lewis and husband Stuart Gaffney were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. John and Stuart are leaders in the nationwide grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA.