Marriage, The New Beginning
By 2004, Alice and a broad coalition of allies had spent decades creating a very different world for the LGBT community than when Jim Foster started Alice. On Valentine’s Day, 2004, a time known in San Francisco as “The Winter of Love”, the community of San Francisco was ready to turn the page to a new day in our movement.
Marriage – The New Beginning
Of course Valentines Day 2004, the "Winter of Love," was not the beginning of the fight for marriage equality. But the rush of people to City Hall where Mayor Newsom started marrying gay men and lesbians certainly did feel like a new beginning. For once, the Milk Club, Alice, the Bay Guardian, the Chronicle, Willie Brown, Tom Ammiano and all of San Francisco could stand together and be proud of our city. Not since the days of Milk and Moscone had there been such hope in San Francisco.
On February 14, 2004, Mayor Newsom directed the County Clerk to recognize same sex marriages, citing the US Constitution, and challenging state law as being unconstitutional. People rushed down to City Hall with their friends and families grabbing flowers and their best outfits to experience the words “I do”, with the blessing of the City. The religious right tried to halt the marriages, but the ceremonies continued for several weeks. There were thousands and thousands of same-sex couples who came from all over California, the nation and the world to be a part of it; and they happily waited in lines wrapped around City Hall with City workers volunteering twelve-hour days to marry as many people as possible while the courts allowed the marriages to continue. It felt like a moment when everything changed for our community and we could never go backwards again.
It would be unimaginable that Mayor Newsom would feel empowered to take that stand for marriage equality without the support of groups like Alice. All the years of work building political support behind the idea that gay men, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people are just as deserving of basic dignity as everyone else paid off big when Mayor Newsom made the ‘radical’ act of recognizing our love. Gavin Newsom did not start the fight for marriage, but he boldly ushered in a new day that everyone in San Francisco could be proud of.
Mark Leno carried the torch of marriage equality through the summer in the legislature with Assembly Bill 849, making California the first legislature in the nation to pass a marriage equality bill without the prompting of a court order. Standing up to many who were fearful in his own party that the timing was inappropriate, Leno pressed ahead and through relentless tenacity passed the Marriage Equality bill out of the California Legislature. Leno and Newsom’s efforts helped educate the public and move the issue forward. Polling in California showed that as AB 849 passed the legislature, the California public moved from being decisively opposed to same sex marriage, to being evenly divided over the issue. Despite Governor Schwarzenneger’s veto of AB 849, and despite the rumblings of discontent over Newsom’s act of courage, Leno and Newsom’s efforts, with the work of Alice, Equality California, and countless activists around the state had moved California opinion significantly in our favor. As history continues to move forward, we can be more and more proud of standing up for what is right at a time when others were afraid.
The Next Generation of Alice Leaders:
As many of Alice’s longtime members gained notoriety, rising to power at all levels of government, Alice continued to provide a training ground for new leadership. Former Alice Co-Chairs Laura Spanjian and Scott Wiener have joined the Democratic County Central Committee, working with veteran Alice leaders Connie O’Conner and Leslie Katz to shape the future of San Francisco politics. Working with them is longtime Harvey Milk Club leader and recent Alice Board Member Robert Halaand, working together in a new partnership of LGBT collaboration. Alice again made history by appointing first Julius Turman (2007), and then Susan Christian (2008), as the club's first African American co-chairs, furthering Alice’s commitment to diversity. Alice has a history of grooming leaders, and if anything, it is working even more successfully today than it ever has before.
Much can be learned from the work done at Alice. Decades ago after Stonewall signaled a new era for LGBT people, the community was stuck in a conspiracy of silence and a world that despised and misunderstood it. At that time, Alice sought an alliance with the Democratic Party. Over decades of work with allies around the nation, LGBT people were finally able to break the conspiracy of silence. Through years of work, Alice and other political organizations helped coordinate the energy of the LGBT movement into a local, state and national political platform that won systemic changes for the entire nation. Through the support of many leaders such as Mark Leno, Carole Migden, John Laird, Tom Ammiano, Susan Leal, Bevan Dufty, Leslie Katz, Theresa Sparks, Dennis Herrera, Jackie Speier, Willie Brown, Gavin Newsom, Bill Clinton, Barbara Boxer, Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, and countless others; Alice helped transform law and sentiment towards LGBT people. San Francisco was at the forefront of change for Consensual Sex Legislation, Domestic Partnership, Equal Benefits, Transgender Health, and Marriage Equality to name just a few of the causes locally championed that went on to have national impact. And thirty years after Harvey Milk told the world “You’ve Gotta Give ‘em Hope,” California declared May 22nd "Harvey Milk Day" in a bill signed by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009.
The LGBT community has seized and shaped its destiny over the last few decades. As we in the community look to our future, it’s important to remember how our efforts right now, even the small tasks we do along the way, really do change the world.
- Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, March, 2004 1st online edition of Alice Reports, recounting Mayor Newsom's February decision to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples on Valentines Day, 2004 [See Documents page]
- Wikipedia. Same-Sex Marriage in California