California Couple Rushes to Say 'I Do'

Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis are taking advantage of California's new law allowing same-sex marriages. The two are one of hundreds of gay couples expected to say their vows today. The couple reflects on their long road to formally solidifying their union, and the potential threat to gay marriage in November.

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CHERYL CORLEY, host:

Earlier we discussed how the gay marriages may play out in different communities of color. And now we'll here from one couple getting married today, in California. Here to talk about their big days are Stewart Gaffney and John Lewis, one of the couples who were part of the lawsuit seeking marriage rights for same-sex couples. Welcome to the program.

Mr. STEWART GAFFNEY (Couple, Marriage Rights for Same Sex Couples): Hello

Mr. JOHN LEWIS (Couple, Marriage Rights for Same Sex Couples): All right, thank you.

CORLEY: Well, Stewart why don't you begin. And tell us how you met each other?

Mr. GAFFNEY: Well, John and I met over 21 years ago at a small house party. And like many happy couples, you know, I've met across the room it took someone else to introduce us. But, we immediately felt like we were family. We felt so familiar to each other, and I remember about a week after we met. A friend of mine said, so, have you met anybody new?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GAFFNEY: And I said, I've met my future husband.

CORLEY: Wow, you knew right away.

Mr. GAFFNEY: And, yes it's only taken us 21 years to get to our wedding day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GAFFNEY: But, yeah I knew he was a wonderful man the moment I met him.

CORLEY: John, did you feel the same way?

Mr. LEWIS: Oh, absolutely. It was just this feeling like I'd already known him for ever. And that night we didn't have any pen or paper with us. So, we each had to memorize each other's phone numbers, and we went home and then we actually called each other back almost simultaneously. And we each had remembered each other's phone number.

CORLEY: Well, you know today the thing is when you meet somebody you instantly Google them, and I was wondering, you know, did you try any of that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORLEY: Or just talk to friends about each other?

Mr. GAFFNEY: Well, you know 21 years ago it was a pretty…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GAFFNEY: ...low-tech world, and we actually have notes from the message pads where our phone messages were taken when we called each other's offices, even before voice mail. So, we've been growing old together these last two decades.

The internet has caught up with us, but now marriage has caught up with us. And we're going to have our wedding day.

CORLEY: Well, when the state of California, and John this is to you, made it legal for couples to marry. Why the decision to marry right away? I know you said you'd been together 21 years now. Is that a little bit of the reasoning?

Mr. LEWIS: Yeah, well most simply we love each other and we want to be married. And it's been over 21 years, and we don't want to wait another day longer. Marriage truly is the marker of a family. And Stewart and I have been supporting each other as a family, but without that dignity and respect. And so, we just wanted to have that dignity and respect as soon as possible.

CORLEY: All right, you say dignity and respect. I was wondering if, you confronted any kind of discriminatory attitudes while you were actually planning the wedding or leading up to this day. Stewart?

Mr. GAFFNEY: Well, I'm glad to say that our families have been extremely supportive. Actually after we first exchanged wedding vows in San Francisco City Hall four years ago, it was right before Chinese New Year. And my family is a multi-cultural family. My Mom is Chinese-American, and we have a Chinese New Year celebration every year. And it was right after we exchanged vows four years ago. And the family just came together. They toasted us, they gave us gifts, and we felt a very warm embrace. And have felt that our relationship is part of the family history, as well.

CORLEY: Well, your parents as I understand also had trouble getting married, legally. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Mr. GAFFNEY: Yes, my own mom and dad, an interracial couple, were only able to marry in California thanks to a decision 60 years ago that overturned the state law banning interracial couples from marrying. And we take a lot of inspiration from my mom and dad. As they moved around the country, after marrying in California, they found that each state treated the marriage differently.

And, in fact, they moved to the state of Missouri, which still had its law on the books. And in the language of the day, which was unfortunately, all marriages between whites and Negroes, and all marriages between whites and Mongolians are considered legally null and void.

So, my parents also felt that pain of not having their marriage recognized. Now, luckily all those laws have been taken away, and interracial couples are freely able to marry in all 50 states. And as John and I celebrate our wedding day, we're looking forward to that same freedom to marry that my parents have.

CORLEY: Must have a particular resonance for you, then?

Mr. GAFFNEY: It's a very beautiful moment in our family. Our parents will all be there, but as we exchange vows, and look out at my mother and father, they're reflecting that wedding ceremony back to us. It is going to be a very moving moment for us as a family.

CORLEY: I just want to take a moment to pause, and remind listeners that if you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm Cheryl Corley, and we're talking about gay marriage with Stewart Gaffney and John Lewis, who are getting married today in California.

And we want to ask you where do you stand on this issue? Do you support the right of gay and lesbian couples to get married? Or do you believe that marriage is between a woman and a man? Please share your comments on the Tell Me More page at npr.org or call our comment line at area code 202-842- 3522. That number again is 202-842-3522. So, John back to you. How big is this wedding going to be?

Mr. LEWIS: Well, what's really important to us is to have our close family members, and friends. My best friend from junior high school is coming, and some friends that we've known for 20 - 30 years now.

And one thing I just love about weddings is, the part where you get to - at the reception - you get to tell stories, and…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEWIS: Really reflect on why these close friends, and family are so important to you. And it's a really big wonderful part of that.

CORLEY: What's the ceremony going to be like? You say you are going to have a reception. So, what's the ceremony itself?

Mr. LEWIS: We are going to have a very simple ceremony. We exchanged vows four years ago in San Francisco City Hall, and that moment was truly a transformative moment for us. Because, at that moment four years ago, we really felt for the first time in our lives as gay people, that our government was treating us as equal human beings.

And unfortunately those marriages four years ago were nullified. And so, that's why we're part of the lawsuit that is making this day possible. And that we're getting married in San Francisco today. But we wanted to have very simple vows, in beautiful San Francisco City Hall for this wedding today, as well.

CORLEY: Well, it's interesting, because you said that this is a process that you did four years ago, as well, and it was nullified. And I was wondering how nervous you are that, come November that you might find yourself in the same situation. Where, the amendment calling for a marriage to be solely between a man, and a woman might actually prevail, nullifying your ceremony.

Mr. LEWIS: Well, we really think things have changed now, and I know in preparing for our wedding day over the last days, and weeks, I've spent time just reflecting on how meaningful this is to us. And how important Stewart is to me, and how we've been so important in each other's lives. And I just reflect upon how happy I am. And, after I got my hair cut - just have it - just so, looking just right for the wedding. I just came out of the street beaming with joy.

And there's a lot more joy in California this week than there was last week. And, we just have confidence that, people are not going to want to take that joy away.

CORLEY: Well, everybody's always interested in what people are wearing on their wedding day. So, what you guys have picked out?

Mr. GAFFNEY: This is Stewart. We're wearing classic black tuxedos, with white tux shirts for just a very simple dignified classic look, and then we've got royal blue bow ties, and matching cummerbunds. That just gives it a nice splash of color, and just - we feel like it's going to make it, just right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORLEY: OK. And the reception, I know you said you're going to have friends and family and, you know, tell stories, are you going to party?

Mr. GAFFNEY: Yes. We definitely are going to party because a wedding is a thing to celebrate. It brings joy into people's lives, it brings people together, and it makes people happy and want to have fun. So yes, we're going to get together afterwards, we're going to raise a glass, we're going to toast to happiness and our future together and we're going to eat some really good food and just have a nice time.

CORLEY: Stewart Gaffney and John Lewis joined us from their home in San Francisco. They will be one of many same-sex couples getting married in the state of California today. Best wishes to you both.

Mr. GAFFNEY: Thank you so much.

Mr. LEWIS: Thanks.

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