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Couple aniticipates hearing
on same-sex marriage

By Julia Cheever, Bay City News Service

July 3, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - Two San Francisco men who will ask a state appeals court on Monday to affirm their right to marry say they feel proud to be part of a historic case.

John Lewis, 47, said last week that while it's tiring to be part of a lawsuit stretching over several years, "We have a deep and abiding faith in the California constitution."

His partner, Stuart Gaffney, 43, said, "This is a historical moment. Our country is finding its way on this issue as we speak. That's an exciting thing to be part of."

Lewis and Gaffney are one of 12 couples represented by the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights in a lawsuit that claims same-sex couples in California have a right to marry under the state constitution.

On Monday, a panel of the state Court of Appeal in San Francisco will hear arguments on state Attorney General Bill Lockyer's appeal of a lower court ruling in favor of the same-sex couples.

In that ruling, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer last year struck down state laws requiring marriage to be between a man and a woman and concluded that the constitution provides a right to same-sex marriage.

In addition to Lewis' and Gaffney's case, the appeals court will consider five other cases. Three, filed by other gay and lesbian couples and the city of San Francisco, support same-sex marriage.

The other two cases, filed by traditional values groups, oppose it.

Lockyer, in defending the marriage laws, has argued that the state has a right to retain the traditional definition of marriage while at the same time giving same-sex couples almost all the same rights and benefits through domestic partner laws.

The Campaign for California Families, one of the traditional values groups, contends in its legal arguments that marriage should be restricted to heterosexual couples because it is essentially "socially and culturally a child-rearing institution."

To Lewis and Gaffney, however, "marriage is the marking of a family" regardless of sexual orientation, Lewis said.

"An equal right to marriage should be something you are born with," Gaffney said.

Lewis, a lawyer, and Gaffney, a project director at Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California at San Francisco, have been a couple for 19 years.

They say their quest for marriage has had aspects of a roller coaster ride.

They were among the first 10 couples to be married during San Francisco's short-lived period of granting same-sex marriage licenses in 2004.

Lewis said he was on the steps of City Hall at midday on Feb. 12, 2004, for a demonstration for Freedom to Marry Day, an unofficial and not widely known holiday established by a gay advocacy group.

When it was announced that the city had begun issuing licenses, he borrowed a cell phone to call Gaffney, who "bolted down to City Hall" for a wedding conducted by the city's chief tax counsel.

Lewis said they felt "treated for the first time as equal human beings by our government."

Six months later, when the state Supreme Court invalidated the San Francisco marriages, he felt "the badge of inferiority literally being placed back on me," Lewis said.

The two men then joined the National Center for Lesbian Rights' constitutional challenge, which was already pending in San Francisco Superior Court.

Gaffney said he feels an additional connection to the case because his parents, who are Chinese-American and white, were allowed to marry as a result of a landmark California Supreme Court decision that struck down a state ban on interracial marriages in 1948.

The earlier ruling is cited in the same-sex couples' brief as a precedent for the proposition that there is a basic human right to marry a person of one's choice.

Gaffney wrote in a declaration filed with the lawsuit, "Had it not been for the California Supreme Court, my parents would not have been able to marry and I might never have been born."

He said in the statement that the two men hope "the California courts will enforce the California constitution in our generation, too, by affirming that the fundamental right to marry the person of one's choice applies to all persons, regardless of one's sex or sexual orientation."

Gaffney and Lewis said they are not daunted by the knowledge that the case is likely to continue for months, since the Court of Appeal's eventual ruling is certain to be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Lewis said the lengthy litigation "does take a toll" but is also rewarding because it gives the couple a chance to talk to others about the principles at stake.

"We've been together for 19 years and we hope to celebrate our 20th anniversary with a fully legal marriage," he said.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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