Same-Sex Couples Not the First to Face Marriage Discrimination
The memory of another monumental day in court, 60 years earlier, hung over the March 4 hearings on marriage equality, and not just because the famous Perez v. Sharp decision was invoked repeatedly by lawyers.
Stuart Gaffney, half of one of the couples who sued for the right to marry, said on the day of the hearing that he wouldn't have been there were it not for the 1948 California Supreme Court's brave decision to allow interracial couples to marry.
Gaffney's Chinese-American mother, Estelle Lau, and his English-Irish father, Mason Gaffney, were students at the University of California, Berkeley, when the Perez decision made it legal for them to marry and start a family. "Now," Gaffney said, "another generation in our family is turning to the same court for the right to marry."
The 1948 ruling was the first of its kind in the nation's history. In the 2008 case, the high court pointed to its recognition of the "right to join in marriage with the person of one's choice" as a precedent for same-sex couples.
Gaffney said that even after the Perez decision in California, the new family faced discrimination as it moved around the country. The 19 years between Perez and the U.S. Supreme Court's similar ruling in Loving v. Virginia meant that every time the family moved to another state, their marriage had a different status.
This adversity only brought the family closer, Gaffney said, and he counts his parents among his strongest supporters in his fight to have his marriage to his partner of more than 21 years, John Lewis, recognized by the state. Last year, his mother joined the couple at an event commemorating the Loving decision in Washington, D.C.
"It would be hard if we went through this alone," Gaffney said. "But luckily, we're not alone. We're going through this together, as a family."
Lewis and Gaffney held their wedding ceremony on June 17 in San Francisco.
[Photo: Stuart Gaffney, right, and his partner, John Lewis, alongside a photo of Gaffney's parents on their wedding day. Had it not been for another landmark California Supreme Court marriage equality ruling in 1948, which allowed interracial couples to wed, Gaffney's parents would have been barred from marriage.]
Connor Murphy, a University of California, Berkeley student, was a spring 2008 Communications Intern with the ACLU of Northern California.