San Francisco 2004 same-sex weddings

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The San Francisco 2004 same-sex weddings took place between February 12 and March 11, 2004. Newly elected San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom gained international attention and attracted controversy when he issued a directive to the city-county clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Newsom asserted the California Constitution's equal protection clause gave him authority to grant same-sex marriage licenses. Newsom claimed that he was inspired to allow same-sex marriages after hearing President Bush's State of the Union address, in which he proposed outlawing such marriages nationwide by constitutional amendment.[1] A couple of months earlier, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts had issued an order for same-sex marriages to begin in that state in May 2004.

On February 20, 2004, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered state Attorney General Bill Lockyer in writing to "obtain a definitive judicial resolution" of the controversy.[2] Lockyer responded saying that he had not taken a stance on the issue, that the letter did not specifically direct Lockyer to sue San Francisco, and that he did not "personally support policies that give lesser legal rights and responsibilities to committed same-sex couples."[3] The weddings were halted by the California Supreme Court on March 11, by which time about 4,000 same-sex couples had been issued marriage licenses. Lawsuits were brought against San Francisco by Lockyer and by the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based fund representing plaintiffs Barbara Lewis, Charles McIlhenny, and Edward Mei. On August 12, 2004, the California Supreme Court voided all of the licenses.

As a result, the weddings led directly to the landmark In re Marriage Cases ruling by the California Supreme Court in 2008, legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the state, followed by Proposition 8 later that year, forbidding same-sex marriages, and a new case seeking the overturn of Proposition 8, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, later Perry v. Brown, then Hollingsworth v. Perry, which was heard by the U. S. Supreme Court on March 26, 2013 and ended Proposition 8 in a 5-4 decision.

Professional photographs of many of the couples were compiled in an exhibition, "The Photographer's Eye," which premiered in San Francisco before touring the country.[citation needed] An award-winning documentary film, Pursuit of Equality, chronicles the issue.

Political impact[edit]

Republican consultant Ed Rollins and California Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte thought scenes from these marriages would help recruit Republican voters to the polls in the 2004 election. On the other hand, Newsom and San Francisco successfully upstaged the Massachusetts marriages that occurred two months later, which would have reflected even more strongly on the Democratic presidential candidate that year, John Kerry, a senator from Massachusetts.

U.S. Representative from Massachusetts Barney Frank, himself openly gay, criticized San Francisco's actions, saying it was a "symbolic point" that diverted attention from the real struggle for gay rights.

For a brief time following the San Francisco weddings, a handful of city or county officials in Sandoval County, New Mexico, New Paltz, New York, Multnomah County, Oregon, and Asbury Park, New Jersey also issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Officials in Benton County, Oregon were scheduled to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but reneged following threats from the state's Attorney General, saying the county clerk would be arrested if any such licenses were issued.


The line of same-sex couples applying for marriage licenses stretched for blocks around San Francisco's City Hall in February 2004.
  • February 12, 2004: Recently elected Mayor Gavin Newsom and other city officials began issuing marriage licenses in San Francisco, California. Lesbians Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon were the first same-sex couple to be married. The event was intended to undercut a legal challenge planned by Campaign for California Families (CCF).
  • March 9, 2004: The San Jose City Council, by a vote of 8-1, agreed to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions for city employees.[4]
  • March 11, 2004: The Supreme Court of California, headquartered in San Francisco, issued a stay ordering the County of San Francisco to stop performing same-sex marriages pending court review on the legality of the matter. Mayor Newsom agreed to abide by the order. The ruling did not alter a scheduled March 29 San Francisco Superior Court hearing before Judge Ronald Quidachay in which the Campaign for California Families and the Alliance Defense Fund claimed that San Francisco's granting of same-sex marriage licenses was illegal. Quidachay later delayed the hearing pending state Supreme Court action.[5]
  • May 25, 2004: The state Supreme Court held hearings on the legality of the marriages. San Francisco had wanted its case heard first by lower courts, before juries, rather than by the state Supreme Court. However, the court suggested that San Francisco could file its own suit against the state, and the city launched such a suit that afternoon.[6]
  • August 12, 2004: The state Supreme Court released its decision, exactly six months after the first same-sex marriages were performed in San Francisco. The court ruled unanimously that the City and County of San Francisco exceeded its authority and violated state law by issuing the marriage licenses. In a 5-2 decision, the court also declared all same-sex marriages performed in San Francisco to be void, while expressing no opinion on the constitutionality of marriage restrictions.[7]

Notable marriages[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gordon, Rachel (2004-02-15). "THE BATTLE OVER SAME-SEX MARRIAGE". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-09-21. 
  2. ^ "Governor Schwarzenegger's Letter to Attorney General Lockyer Regarding Same-Sex Marriage" (Press release). State of California. 2004-02-20. Retrieved 2008-05-21. 
  3. ^ Harriet Chiang; John Wildermuth; Chronicle Staff Writers (2004-02-21). "Governor demands end to gay marriage: Lockyer told to act against S. F.'s same-sex licenses". San Francisco Chronicle. p. A-1. Retrieved 2008-05-21. 
  4. ^ "San Jose recognizes gay marriage". Chicago Tribune. March 10, 2004. Retrieved 2012-02-21. 
  5. ^ "Herrera Files Briefs With Supreme Court on Issue of Municipal Authority for Same-Sex Licenses". Office of the City Attorney, San Francisco. March 11, 2004. Retrieved 2012-02-21. 
  6. ^ "California Same Sex Marriage Cases". C-SPAN. May 25, 2004. Retrieved 2012-02-21. 
  7. ^ "California Court Nullifies Same-Sex Marriages". PBS News Hour. August 12, 2004. Retrieved 2012-02-21. 
  8. ^ " San Francisco weds gay couples",, archived by