Next week marks the ten-year anniversary of the beginning of San Francisco’s “Winter of Love,” in which 4,037 same-sex couples married at San Francisco City Hall from February 12 to March 11, 2004. Those extraordinary days took the movement for marriage equality in California to a whole new level and inspired thousands of people to get involved. We now have the freedom to marry in our state. What the “Winter of Love” sparked remains highly significant as we continue the struggle for full LGBTIQ equality.
We began our involvement with the marriage equality movement on February 12, 2004, when we got married at City Hall. The experience was especially profound for us because it gave us the feeling of equality as members of the LGBTIQ community. From the beginning, we have always considered the movement for the freedom to marry to be linked inextricably to the struggle for LGBTIQ equality in all aspects of our lives.
The Winter of Love ultimately led to the California Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in In Re Marriage Cases, establishing marriage equality in California before Proposition 8 and recognizing that commonality of purpose. It established that any law discriminating against lesbian and gay people in any aspect of their lives, not just marriage, was presumptively unconstitutional unless the government could provide the most compelling of reasons for the law. The decision protects lesbian and gay people in myriad aspects of their lives from education to employment to the criminal justice system.
As public attention and opponents’ efforts focused on marriage, the California Legislature also quietly enacted laws establishing many important rights and protections other than marriage for LGBTIQ people. The 2010 Proposition 8 trial presented testimony about the gross harm that so-called gay “conversion” therapy exacts on lesbian and gay people, and the California Legislature went on to ban such therapy for minors.
Soon we may be faced with another challenge at the ballot box in California regarding LGBTIQ rights. On January 1, 2014, the School Success and Opportunity Act (Assembly Bill 1266) took effect. It requires that all California public schools respect students’ gender identity and ensures that students can fully participate in all school activities and facilities that match their gender identity. Opponents (many of whom backed Prop. 8) collected petition signatures to attempt to repeal the law on the November 2014 statewide ballot.
The state is now conducting a full count of signatures, and the referendum may or may not qualify for the ballot. If it does, we must share our lives and tell our personal stories to show the world, as we did during the Winter of Love, that laws excluding LGBTIQ people harm real people – in this case, transgender students.
We must remember that discrimination in any aspect of our lives and against any members of the community affects us all. And we must invoke the spirit and enthusiasm that the Winter of Love evoked to defeat the referendum if it appears on the ballot, or prevail in whatever challenge lies ahead for our community.
John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for nearly three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. They are leaders in
the nationwide grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA.