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reed magazine logoSummer 2008
End of Marriage?

As same-sex marriage gains a foothold, some progressives argue that the legal institution itself should be abolished.

The groom spoke the words he had been waiting for nearly two decades to utter: “I do.” As he spoke, the 50 or so guests who were crowded onto the sweeping marble staircase of San Francisco City Hall absorbed the weight of the simple, time-honored sentence.

John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney exchange rings on their wedding day
in San Francisco. Photo by Darcy Padilla.

Then it was the other groom’s turn. John Lewis, 49, promised Stuart Gaffney, 45, to love and comfort him, to honor and keep him, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, for better or for worse, and to be faithful to him as long as they both might live. Chief Judge Emeritus Thelton Henderson of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California then pronounced the couple—smartly dressed in matching black tuxes—“lawfully wedded spouses.”

The ceremony took place on June 17, one day after a landmark decision by the state Supreme Court went into effect overturning California’s same-sex marriage ban and establishing the fundamental right of gay and lesbian couples to marry under state law. In its ruling, the 4–3 court majority accepted the main thrust of the amicus curiae filed by Stuart and John in the case to guarantee their equal right to marry under California’s constitution.

Stuart’s father, Mason Gaffney ’48, boils the argument down to a simple formula, one that has resonated profoundly in his own life. “Discrimination among people based on race is unconstitutional,” he says, “and discrimination based on sexual preference is unconstitutional.” In the legalese of California Chief Justice Ronald M. George, appointed by Republican Governor Pete Wilson: “Our state now recognizes that an individual’s capacity to establish a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person and responsibly to care for and raise children does not depend upon the individual’s sexual orientation.”

Gay marriage still has a long way to go in this country—only California and Massachusetts now permit it, and marriage protection acts have passed in state after state. At the federal level, there seems little likelihood that Congress will enact legislation favoring gay marriage, or even civil unions, anytime soon. And yet, it is increasingly hard to find legal experts who will defend gay marriage opponents’ main arguments: that gay marriage harms children and undermines heterosexual marriage. Meanwhile, there is a growing consensus among mainstream legal scholars that gay marriage will win the day in the long run. The equal-protection standard in U.S. constitutional tradition is simply too compelling for marriage discrimination based on sexual orientation to stand.

Stuart and John with parents

Mason Gaffney í48 and Estelle Lau, Stuartís father and mother, celebrate with Stuart, John, and John's father, William Lewis, after the ceremony. Photo by Bella Pictures.


reed magazine logoSummer 2008