San Francisco mayor on gay marriage: 'We are proud of our city leading the nation'

San Francisco mayor on gay marriage: 'We are proud of our city leading the nation'
Gay rights advocates John Lewis, left, and his spouse Stuart Gaffney, with the group Marriage Equality USA, kiss across the street from City Hall in San Francisco on Friday following a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that same-sex couples have the right to marry nationwide. (Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

It was at San Francisco's gilded City Hall that Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon were furtively ushered into a private first-floor room by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom and married on Feb. 12, 2004.

Days of elation followed as city employees from the assessor-recorder down to maintenance workers volunteered their time to keep City Hall open through the Valentine's Day weekend. Many wept with joy. Elderly Chinese women arrived with cakes for the couples waiting in a line that snaked around the block.


Legal setbacks and victories followed.

On Friday, celebrants flocked to City Hall, cheers erupting as the U.S. Supreme Court ruling was announced. The ruling happened to fall just before the city's annual Gay Pride weekend.

It also came on the day when U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was feted at City Hall for a ceremony celebrating the 70th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Charter.  The rainbow flags were gone by noon, replaced under the stately City Hall dome by a massive United Nations banner.

But the historic ruling, playing on the theme of human rights, was on everyone's lips.

"At long last, marriage equality in the U.S.," San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee howled to thunderous applause. "We started that movement right here when Gavin Newsom dared to marry loving same-sex couples right under this dome…. We are proud of our city leading the nation and even the world on this issue."

Gov. Jerry Brown, meanwhile, urged the crowd to renew hope "in the impossible dream because we saw the impossible dream become reality today."

"It gives me hope," he said, "that something that was completely unimaginable when this declaration was signed here in San Francisco has become a reality ... the rights of same-sex couples recognized by the highest court in the land.

"Who would have thought that possible even five years ago?" he asked as several hundred onlookers cheered. "But it happened. It happened."

Tucked behind the United Nations banner sat the bust of former San Francisco County Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected leader in California, who was assassinated here in 1978.

"Harvey's bust was looking down, and today the smile is broader," Stuart Milk, his nephew and co-founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation, said in an interview before presenting the foundation's award to Ban Ki-moon for his work promoting human rights for gays and lesbians globally.

His uncle, he said, got daily death threats and always believed he would wind up killed. "His courage," Milk said, "came from the dream that we would have a day like today.... It's not just a green light for the LGBT community. It's a reminder that everyone is included in this life."

As the UN event trailed on below, Vincent Chagoya and Jose "Tony" Valenzuela were marrying on City Hall's fourth floor, in matching black suits with white rose boutonnieres.

The 36-year-old Chagoya met Valenzuela, 41, at a San Antonio, Texas, post office four years ago Saturday.

Marrying there was out of the question. It is not yet legal. So they arranged a trip to "the country's gay capital," Chagoya said.


The couple learned of the unexpected Supreme Court ruling on Facebook and from friends early Friday.

"It just added more magic to the day," he said. "I knew that eventually it would happen, but I just didn't think it would happen so soon."

Added Valenzuela: "Texas is a really, really conservative place," but "everything's changed starting today. It's crazy. It's crazy."

Twitter: @leeromney