Commentary: Jerry Brown’s Wedding Highlights The Need for Marriage Equality By MOLLY McKAY

Tuesday June 28, 2005

On February 12, 2004, my wife Davina and I were married in San Francisco. It was one of the best moments of my life when we were declared “spouses for life” after publicly committing to care, honor and support each other through thick and thin in the City Hall rotunda. We had already carried this commitment in our hearts for nine years, we already owned a house together in Oakland, shared one bank account, and are as in love with each other today as the day we met.  

But because we are a lesbian couple, we could only get married after San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom boldly challenged the state’s discriminatory law that treats us as second-class citizens. The state Supreme Court invalidated our marriage license, but we believe that soon the courts, the legislature, and the people of California will all conclude that same-sex couples and their children deserve the same rights and responsibilities as our heterosexual counterparts.  

A couple of weeks ago, Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, a life-long bachelor, married his partner, Anne Gust, a woman that he has known and loved for 15 years. I congratulate the mayor for taking such an important step, and hope that his wedding day (like mine) was the happiest day of his life. But Brown’s refusal to support marriage equality, and his past involvement on this issue, leaves a sour taste in my mouth. In 1977, then Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Section 300 of the California Family Code, which limits marriage to a civil contract between a man and a woman. This law denies me and my wife, as well as tens of thousands of loving and committed couples and their children throughout California, the 1,400 marital benefits that heterosexual couples take for granted. 

We are told that same-sex marriage is illegal because marriage has traditionally been understood as only being between a man and a woman. But as when the California Supreme Court overruled the ban on interracial marriage in 1948, just because something is “traditional” does not make it right—or even constitutional. Some claim that the purpose of marriage is to procreate children, and that because same-sex couples cannot produce children without assistance, their relationships are somehow less worthy of protection. But nobody would seriously advocate preventing straight couples who are above child-bearing age (like Brown and Gust, who are 65 and 45 years old, respectively) from enjoying the rights and benefits of marriage. Moreover, according to the U.S. Census, one third of all lesbian couples and of all gay male couples are raising children from adoption, alternative insemination, foster parenting and prior heterosexual relationships. These numbers are significantly higher for African American and Latino same-sex households (close to 50 percent). Simply put, as Judge Kramer held in the trial court decision striking down Mayor Brown’s 1977 law and Proposition 22 as unconstitutional, there is no rational basis for deny same-sex couples the right to marry. 

Mayor Brown’s decision to have U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein officiate his wedding only further added insult to injury. Last November, on the morning after the presidential election, Feinstein blamed the LGBT community and our struggle for marriage equality for having sunk John Kerry’s candidacy. The national media, eager to find a “spin” about the election results, stuck to Feinstein’s words “too much, too fast, too soon,” turning our community into scapegoats for a failed presidential campaign that stood for nothing.  

On their honeymoon, the couple plans to kick off Brown’s 2006 campaign for California attorney general. (Anne Gust has quit her job at the Gap Corporation to work full-time as her husband’s campaign manager.) If elected next year, Brown will represent the State of California in its historic litigation over the future of marriage equality. It is only natural for any candidate in such a position to take a stand on same-sex marriage so that the voters can truly decide. As of today, Brown has refused to join other candidates for statewide office (like gubernatorial candidates Phil Angelides and Steve Westly) in supporting marriage equality. And yet he does not hesitate to get married himself and enjoy all the legal benefits and civil recognition that marriage brings. 

So congratulations, Jerry. I wish you and Anne well. We’ve been waiting decades for the rights you will enjoy this weekend. Please right the wrong you signed into law in 1977, and help make it possible for us to get married too. 


Molly McKay is the field director of Equality California, a state-wide organization that advocates for marriage equality. She and her wife, Davina Kotulski, author of Why You Should Give A Damn About Gay Marriage, live in Oakland.