San Francisco celebrates same-sex marriage decision

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU-AP) -- The celebration began early and built throughout the day in San Francisco, a city at the vanguard of the gay rights fight.

Workers draped a giant, one-story-long rainbow flag over the front door of City Hall minutes after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide on Friday morning. Three hours later, the dozens of same-sex marriage backers who initially showed up grew to more than 1,000 cheering supporters standing in front of City Hall.

That's where then-Mayor Gavin Newsom ignited a legal challenge to California's same-sex marriage ban 11 years ago when he ordered clerks to marry a gay couple in defiance of state law.

The California Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in 2013 after several legal setbacks, including the passage of Proposition 8, which briefly banned same-sex weddings in the state.

Newsom is now California's lieutenant governor and told the crowd Friday that San Francisco celebrates diversity.

Newsom thanked the gay community for relentlessly standing up for what they believed in and thanked all those who stood with him in the fight for gay marriage.

"It's a day of affirmation," Newsom said, urging everyone assembled to remember this day when they feel cynical in the future.

"Don't ever despair, don't ever give up," Newsom said, evoking strong emotions in the crowd.

Newsom said the ruling is a reminder that in San Francisco and across the nation, "We celebrate, we don't tolerate, our diversity."

He also said this decision is a reminder that human beings care deeply and that it is a human right to love whomever we choose.

"The best is yet to come in this country," Newsom said, expressing his own excitement to raise his children in a country where all citizens can marry with dignity.

Afterward, at an impromptu press conference, he reminisced about that Valentine's Day 11 years ago when he hoped that his action would spark a legal challenge. It did that -- and more. A sympathetic state court declined to stop San Francisco's City Hall from issuing marriage licenses for more than a month afterward and hundreds of same-sex couples flocked to the city to marry.

"We were hoping to humanize the issue," Newsom said of the first marriage performed at City Hall on Feb. 14, 2004. "What none of us expected is that the courts would allow us to continue marrying gay couples."

Newsom said "I'm proud I didn't wait around for the 'right time' to marry same-sex couples," but that he couldn't imagine then that gay marriage would be legalized nationwide.

"I'd like to say I expected this day," Newsom said. "I didn't. We hit a lot of rough patches along the way."

Same-sex couples were among the most celebratory members of the crowd Friday morning outside City Hall, with many waving rainbow flags and others wearing the flags superhero-style.

Hugs were widely exchanged this morning between members of the public, and with openly gay public officials such as state Sen. Mark Leno, San Francisco Treasurer and Tax Collector Jose Cisneros, as well as city supervisors David Campos and Scott Wiener.

D'vora Tirschwell, a resident of the North Bay, who stood outside City Hall adorned in a rainbow outfit, said today was a "profound" moment for American families.

Tirschwell said although she has been in a same-sex marriage since 2008, the court's ruling "means families can be protected legally" and that couples can establish families with dignity.

"It tells me the constitution means what it says it means, what I always thought it meant," Tirschwell said.

She said the ruling will change the lives of thousands and make it possible for same-sex couples to have legal rights, such as visiting privileges at hospitals and guardianship over a spouses' children.

Inside City Hall, two women were exchanging marriage vows on what turned out to be a historic day.

"It's ironic this is happening today, in the middle of pride on a day we are choosing to do this," said Sarah Insel.

Among those who got married in that initial wave were Nick Niemeyer and David Solari.

Solari had looked forward to this day but didn't live to see it.

"I got teary eyed when I heard the news at 7:04 this morning, thinking If only. But it wasn't meant to be that he would be here to enjoy this," said Niemeyer.

Also celebrating Friday were Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis, who were among the first couples to marry at City Hall in 2008 after the California Supreme Court struck down the law banning same-sex marriage.

"Today truly is the fruition of a personal journey for Stuart and me; a collective journey for the SF community, but a nationwide journey for the LGBT, Americans that has been going on for decades," said Lewis.

What began here at City Hall eleven years ago is now the law of the land.

"It felt fragile; a dream that may never be realized. That dream came true today," said Gaffney.

National Center for Lesbian Rights executive director Kate Kendell expressed her enthusiasm to be in San Francisco today where gay rights leaders such as Harvey Milk laid the path to Friday's victory.

Kendell said that with this ruling "the ground has shifted" and that "justice and love won today."

"Much of what we won today started here," Kendell said, acknowledging the sacrifices made and the shame and indignity that so many people have endured prior to this decision.

Leno said he experienced firsthand the indignity when he came out as an openly gay man in 1969, at a time when many people still thought of homosexuality as a mental illness and laws were unapologetically anti-homosexual.

"We did it," Leno said, adding, "Today San Francisco's values become America's values."

A small number of same-sex marriage opponents protested the Supreme Court decision by unfurling a banner on a freeway overpass across the San Francisco Bay in Berkeley.

San Francisco was already primed for its annual Gay Pride weekend, a raucous 48 hours of parties and same-sex weddings capped off by a parade attended by tens of thousands. Rainbow flags hung from lampposts along the planned parade route and workers were erecting scaffolding and stages in front of City Hall in preparation for the weekend's events.

Mark Streeter and Hai Nguyen just happened to schedule their City Hall wedding for Friday morning and were besieged by well-wishers and media, granting several television interviews before tying the knot.

"This is surreal," said Streeter. "It was the last appointment slot they had left when I called to reserve a spot."

Streeter's beaming mother traveled from Georgia for the wedding.

"It's providential," she said of the timing of the wedding.