My mother, who is Chinese American, was only able to marry my father, who is English and Irish American, because in 1948 the California Supreme Court became the first state supreme court in the nation to overturn a ban on interracial couples marrying. My mother still remembers the day when one of her friends in the Chinese Students Club at U.C. Berkeley had to leave the state to marry her white fiancée a few years before the Court’s decision. My mom's friend literally had to run from the law to marry the person she loved, simply because they were of different races.
In its historic 1948 decision, Perez v. Sharp, the California Supreme Court held that each citizen’s fundamental constitutional right to marry was really no right at all, unless it meant the freedom to “marry the person of one’s choice.” My parents married in the International House at Berkeley, the very same place they'd met. But as they moved to other states, they found that each state’s laws treated their marriage differently simply because of their races. While looking for a house in Missouri, they learned that Missouri law prohibited marriage between whites and “negroes” or “Mongolians,” the term then used for most Asian Americans.
When I was growing up, my parents didn't discuss these discriminatory laws over the dinner table. But it wasn’t until 1967 that the US Supreme Court overturned all such laws nationwide in the landmark Loving v. Virginia case. The court declared marriage is one of the “basic rights of man.”
My mother, John, and I flew to Washington, DC together as a family for events commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Loving decision. My mother spoke out at the Capitol for the rights of all loving couples to wed, including her own son and son-in-law. Mildred Loving, who brought the historic lawsuit before the United States Supreme Court, stated that “I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry.”
When John and I were able to legally marry in 2008, surrounded by our family and friends, it was a dream come true. As we exchanged vows and were pronounced spouses for life, we felt that for the first time in our lives that our government was treating us equally under the law, and treating our relationship with full dignity and respect. The day was so transformative that we have committed to do everything we can to secure the freedom to marry for all.
Having my mom and dad there beside us, witnessing the next generation in our family achieving marriage equality, was the best wedding gift of all. Marriage equality is a family tradition.
Stuart Gaffney is the MEUSA Communications Director, and his husband John Lewis is the MEUSA Director of Legal & Policy.
The photo displayed is from Stuart and John's legal wedding in June 2013, following the SOCTUS decision that upheld a lower court's ruling that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, thus renewing marriage equality in California. The couple is shown here with their respective parents in the rotunda of San Francisco City Hall.
Paul Carey, our MEUSA Multimedia Director, has curated two collections of fantastic June 2015 PRIDE photographs from New York City and San Francisco for your viewing pleasure. And, what PRIDEs they were! In addition to the traditional reasons, these PRIDES were joyful celebrations of the June 26 landmark marriage decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Over 40 years ago, on 2 November 1969, Craig Rodwell, his partner Fred Sargeant, Ellen Broidy, and Linda Rhodes contemplated the country’s first gay pride parade. They proposed a resolution at the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations (ERCHO) meeting in Philadelphia to organize a gay pride parade in New York. Brenda Howard (a.k.a., the "Mother of Pride’) coordinated the first New York march in Greenwich Village on 28 June 1970.
That same weekend, gay activist groups held marches in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago as well. This proud tradition continues to the present day with festivals, marches and related activities taking place annually around the world – often in June to commemorate the Stonewall Riots.
Continuing in this now-annual tradition (in what we hope will the year that ushers in marriage equality nationwide) MEUSA will have a strong presence at Pride events this year in New York (Manhattan) and San Francisco. For more information on those events and how to get involved, see below.
March with us in the 45th annual historic San Francisco PRIDE Parade - often said to be "one of the last remaining PRIDE events that can truly be called a rite of passage."
Love will be in the air at the Marriage Pavilion at the San Francisco Pride Celebration at Civic Center! Publicly pledge your love, renew your vows, take pictures in front of San Francisco City Hall, and learn about the latest about the US Supreme Court decisions -- when will wedding bells ring? Join Marriage Equality USA and learn how sharing our personal stories can bring us full lived equality in all aspects of our lives.
Sign up here to march with MEUSA in the parade.
For full details on PRIDE Events go to the San Francisco PRIDE site.
New York City, NY — June 28
If you are fortunate enough to be in Manhattan, the birthplace of PRIDE, in June, MEUSA is hosting or participating in several events.
MEUSA NYC PRIDE Breakfast at Playwright Irish Pub, June 28, 9:00am
MEUSA invites you to attend its 8th Annual at Playwright Irish Pub right in the parade formation zone on W. 35 Street. You can purchase tickets through Friday, June 26 or a limited number of tickets will be available at the door.
Afterwards, MEUSA welcomes you to be a part of its contingent in what we hope will be an historic march celebrating marriage equality throughout all 50 U.S. states and five territories. Sign up here to march with MEUSA in the parade.
Other MEUSA Pride 2015 events include:
Salt Lake City UT – June 4-7
This year, our MEUSA Salt Lake City Local Organizers Colleen and Jolene Mewing have been honored as announcers for the entire Salt Lake City Pride Parade on Sunday, June 7! Check the Utah Pride Festival for further information.
Castro Valley CA -- July 11
MEUSA’s San Francisco Bay Area logistics volunteer supreme, Billy Bradford, is organizing Castro Valley Pride is FIVE!, a welcoming, inclusive, family-friendly celebration for the LGBTQ community members and allies.
Castro Valley Pride was started five years ago by a group of high school students who believed they should create a space for Castro Valley's LGBTQ community. Click here to register a booth for a group or business. To participate in the day's activities, check out the Facebook event!
Fighting for social change is in my blood,” says longtime MEUSA volunteer and former board member Kirsten Berzon. “I come from a family of social justice advocates. The draw toward MEUSA was pretty simple for me,” she says of her immediate interest in the organization back in 2006.
Kirsten dates joining the MEUSA family back to a Pride event in Oakland, CA. “I met Davina Kotulski, former MEUSA Executive Director, there. I already knew who she and her then-wife, Molly McKay, were; both tremendous leaders in the movement — even before there was a movement. We started talking and when I mentioned that I was a professional event planner, her eyes lit up.”
The serendipitous encounter would lead to Kirsten’s involvement in a series of MEUSA events and award ceremonies, from chairing the San Francisco Awards Receptions to organizing the MEUSA presence in the San Francisco Pride Parade and Celebration, to planning smaller fundraisers. Her initial interest was a simple quest for equality. “Equal civil marriage rights are a matter of civil rights. LGBT people should not be treated any differently than straight people. The fact that the 1,183 rights of marriage were not available to LGBT people, simply because of who they love, was not something I could accept without trying to advocate for social change,” says Kirsten.
But it was an epiphany, of sorts, that turbo-charged Kirsten’s marriage equality activism. “One moment that really hit me was sitting in a MEUSA leadership retreat in October 2006, shortly after meeting Davina, and learning that over 50 rights of those 1,183 attributable to marriage pertain to tax law. To think that, should my spouse die, I would be treated as a legal stranger in the eyes of the law and could potentially be financially destitute after being denied social security benefits, was unconscionable to me. This was one of those moments when I knew I had to get involved.”
After serving as a board member and Treasurer of MEUSA from 2008 to 2009, Kirsten returned to the ranks of dedicated MEUSA volunteers to focus on the San Francisco Awards Reception. “It has been wonderful to see the Bay Area community come together for this event and really support it. The work of MEUSA in the Bay Area, until 2013, was much more focused on education, rallies and the like. We weren’t sure if there was an appetite for a fundraising event or if we had the right audience. Not only have we found our audience, the event has gotten bigger and better each year, raising more and more funds for the organization. Honoring Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and Judge Vaughn Walker, two important heroes of our movement, as well as getting to thank them in person, was a huge highlight of my time with MEUSA.”
Kirsten says she is glad she chose to channel her activism to MEUSA among the major LGBTQ rights organizations. “Time and time again, MEUSA has taught me that a small group of people really can change the world. It has been clear to me from day one that changing hearts and minds, by telling our stories, one person at a time, is what has resulted in so much movement on this issue in such a short period of time. While the ‘big boys’ may have more staff, market share and funding, Marriage Equality USA is ‘the little organization that could.’"
First photo: Kirsten Berzon and Davina Kotulski. Photo courtesy of Kirsten Berzon's Facebook.
Second photo: Kirsten Berzon, by Kathy Ma.
Third photo: Kirsten Berzon and her wife Kathy Ma served as San Francisco Pride June 2009 poster women. This photo shows them next to a poster of them on a SF bus stop shelter - they are wearing their MEUSA t-shirts. Photo courtesy of Kirsten Berzon
State Senator Mark Leno, the San Francisco Giants, BALIF to be honored on May 3
WHAT: Marriage Equality USA (MEUSA) continues 17 years of national celebration events with their annual San Francisco Garden Party + Awards. The event will celebrate the work of hundreds of grassroots volunteers in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, while honoring the contributions of State Senator Mark Leno, the San Francisco Giants, and more. The San Francisco Garden Party + Awards brings together community, corporate and political leaders, celebrities and grassroots volunteers to celebrate and raise funds to move the issue of marriage equality forward. The event is a celebratory afternoon of cocktails, light food, entertainment and a silent auction. Complete details and tickets at www.marriageequality.org/sf-awards
WHO: Founded in 1996, Marriage Equality USA (MEUSA) is the nation’s oldest organization dedicated to building equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community through civil marriage equality in every state and at the federal level. With over 40,000 members as well as volunteer leaders and partner organizations in all 50 states, it is the largest grassroots organization of its kind engaged in education, training, organizing, advocacy and coalition building to empower individuals and partner organizations to advocate for their own equality and win equal rights and protections for LGBTQ couples and their children.
WHERE: Chambers Eat + Drink, 601 Eddy Street, San Francisco, CA 94109
WHEN: Sunday, May 3, 2015 from 1:00pm to 4:00pm PT
MEDIA CREDENTIALS: Media credentials for the event can be requested online.
"Marriage Equality USA has a long and proud history that documents our growth from an idea in 1996 to the vigorous, national grassroots movement it is today," said MEUSA Executive Director Brian Silva. "At this moment of historic change, I look forward to bringing our community together to celebrate and to honor the leaders and stories that are making marriage equality a reality."
2015 San Francisco Garden Party + Awards Honorees
Ally Honoree: State Senator Mark Leno
California State Senator Mark Leno has been a leader for marriage equality in every aspect of our movement, from the grassroots to the highest levels of government. A true man of the people, Senator Leno has marched in the streets and then marched into legislative chambers where he has made history many times over. As author and champion of California’s historic Marriage License Non-Discrimination Act legislation, he made world headlines and helped pave the road that has led us all the way to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. His distinguished career in public office includes leadership on LGBTQ rights issues and social justice causes that touch every aspect of our lives.
Corporate Partner Honoree: San Francisco Giants
Since moving to San Francisco in 1958, the Giants have been an integral part of our community, and have always stood for San Francisco values. In 1994, the Giants became the first-ever professional sports team to host a benefit game to end AIDS, with the annual “Until There’s A Cure Day.” In 2011, the Giants became the first professional sports team to join the “It Gets Better” campaign with their moving video featuring many of their star players. Most recently, the Giants signed onto an amicus brief submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of marriage equality in all 50 states.
Community Honoree: Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom
Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom (BALIF) is the nation's oldest and largest association of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons in the field of law. Founded in 1980, BALIF has been thte lead party in numerous amicus or friend-of-the-court briefs that Marriage Equality USA and many other civil rights organizations have been proud to join. BALIF has been an extraordinary leader in the movement for LGBT equality for decades, serving as a leading voice advocating for full equality under the law.
• Platinum Partner: New York Life
• Gold Partner: Barefoot Wine & Bubbly
• Silver Partner: Tito’s Handmade Vodka
• Bronze Partners: Pacific Gas & Electric, Chambers Eat + Drink, Rebecca Jean Catering and Events
• Community Partners: Green Graphics, Levi Smith Photography
• Media Partners: KRON4 TV, San Francisco Bay Times, Betty’s List
Brian Silva, Executive Director, (347) 913-6369, [email protected]
Stuart Gaffney, Communications Director, (415) 378-3259, [email protected]
John Lewis, Legal & Policy Director, (415) 377-7924, [email protected]
John Lewis graduated in the top ten percent of his class from Stanford Law School in 1986, where he was awarded the Steven M. Block Award for writing on Civil Liberties. After clerking for the Honorable Thelton E. Henderson of the Northern District of California Federal Court, he practiced civil rights, public policy, and constitutional law.
John and his husband, Stuart Gaffney, were plaintiffs in the landmark California legal case In Marriage Cases, 43 Cal.4th 757 (2008), that established broad constitutional protections for lesbian and gay people and the freedom to marry in California before Proposition 8.
John is a member of the State Bar of California. John provides legal analyses of marriage equality-related court case proceedings, judicial decisions, and legislation to Marriage Equality USA leaders and members.
Additionally, John works with his husband, Stuart Gaffney, Marriage Equality USA's Communications Director, as a media resource and public spokesperson for the organization. John is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, is a columnist for the San Francisco Bay Times and writes for other publications as well. John authored an amicus brief that MEUSA submitted to the United States Supreme Court in February 2013.
Interesting fact: John worked in a refugee camp in the Philippines for Southeast Asian refugees in the early 1980's.
Stuart is the Marriage Equality USA National Communications Director, serving as the primary liaison to all areas of the organization as it relates to media/press: MEUSA Media Center. Stuart also oversees our organizational communications, which incudes our media relations, messaging, and our news blog and newsletter.
Stuart and his husband John Lewis have been prominent voices speaking out for marriage equality in the local, national and international media since 2004. Stuart is one of the well-known "faces" of the marriage equality movement. His messaging and marriage equality news dissemination is widely relied upon, both professionally and informally. Stuart is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, is a regular columnist for the San Francisco Bay Times and writes for other publications as well.
Stuart and John were plaintiffs in the historic California case for marriage equality, In re marriage cases (2008). Stuart's Witness declaration. Together for 24 years, they legally married in 2008. A graduate of Yale University, Stuart is a filmmaker, and in his "day job" he is a policy analyst and educator at the UCSF Center for AIDS Prevention Studies.
Not surprisingly, Stuart was president of his high school's debate team WAY back in 1980. Stuart says that one of the best times of their lives was when he and husband John backpacked around the world together before their wedding day.