20 Years Ago, San Francisco’s “Winter of Love” Set Off an Unintended Campaign for Same-Sex Marriage

Advocates wanted people to think about their grandparents being able to marry for the first time.

February 12 was significant for a few reasons. It was Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, and it was just two days before Valentine’s Day. For that reason in 1998, LGBTQ+ advocacy group Lambda Legal had deemed the day “National Freedom to Marry Day.”

Advocates in San Francisco in 2004 were sure that the moment couples started to marry, the courts would halt the marriages. But Freedom to Marry Day was well-timed: February 12 was a national holiday.

“The courts were closed,” said Broaddus. “So we were like, ‘Oh my God, they’re not going to be able to shut this down.’ And then it just kept going.”

Newsom had opened City Hall on the holiday, and more than 4,000 LGBTQ+ couples married the following month. San Franciscans flocked to cheer them on, to deliver couples flowers and pizzas.

Broaddus knew her marriage would be invalidated. But she also knew the wedding certificate in her hands had instantly become a historical document. And she knew that no matter what happened, LGBTQ+ couples would have marriage rights eventually.

Something shifted in her.

“We were strong feminists. We were very ambivalent about marriage,” she said. “Suddenly, my relationship was recognized in a way that it never had been, and it really did feel different. It really felt profound to me in a way I had not expected.”

People rally in support of gay marriage in San Francisco on August 12, 2004. Earlier in the day, the California Supreme Court voided the nearly 4,000 same-sex marriages sanctioned in San Francisco this year and ruled unanimously that Gavin Newsom overstepped his authority by issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples. (NOAH BERGER/AP)

Twenty years later, Broaddus and her partner are still together. She has déjà vu watching transgender rights come under attack, particularly so-called bathroom bills.

“We used to joke about, ‘When you get to bathrooms, you know you’re on the winning track,’” she said. “That’s what happened during the civil rights movement. It happened during the women’s movement. It’s actually kind of a barometer of movements, people and their bathroom issues.”

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