Now It Can Be Called Just Plain “Marriage”

On February 16, 2004, my partner of (now) 16 years, David, and I were married at San Francisco's City Hall. We were among the several thousand individuals who took advantage of a directive from then-Mayor Gavin Newsom authorizing that marriage licenses be issued to same-sex couples.

We originally intended to get married on Valentine's Day, but the long lines of license applicants waiting to get into the building prevented us from doing so. Consequently, we had to camp outside City Hall, in heavy downpour, starting the night of February 15th.

For both David and I, it was more about being part of history, and mostly as a form of civil disobedience in protest of the inequality that gay men and women have experienced for so long in terms of equality and civil rights, including the constitutional right to marry.

We knew the document we had in hand after our wedding wasn't going to be valid for long. The legal challenges to Newsom's directive would eventually catch up with the excitement and celebration that marked those few days in San Francisco.

 Rene Astudillo and David Anthony Dezern's marriage license (Photo by Rene Astudillo)

Rene Astudillo and David Anthony Dezern's marriage license (Photo by Rene Astudillo)

My personal crusade for marriage equality started in 1993, when the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in favor of a lesbian couple, Nina Baehr and Genora Dancel, a Filipina, who sued the state for refusing to grant them a marriage license. In the landmark case, Baehr vs. Lewin, the high court maintained that denying the couple a marriage license was tantamount to discrimination, which was against the state constitution. I have always considered the Hawaii case as the birth of the marriage equality movement.

Soon thereafter, I moved to Honolulu to take up a job as education director for the Life Foundation, Hawaii's AIDS Foundation. It was during my two years of residency in Hawaii that I actively got involved in the equality movement, attending strategy meetings at an LGBT center near the University of Hawaii's Manoa campus.

My advocacy work in Hawaii and the civil disobedience my partner and I participated in back in San Francisco was about one thing and one thing only: As Americans and human beings, gay men and women are entitled to the same rights and privileges that our heterosexual counterparts enjoyed -- including the right to marry.

Even if our San Francisco marriage license hadn't been revoked, that piece of document was nothing more than symbolic. It didn't give us all the automatic federal rights extended to heterosexual married couples -- from taxation to immigration to health care decisions.

In a 1993 op-ed piece I wrote for Filipinas magazine, I asserted that not in my entire lifetime would this country ever see the legalization of same-sex marriage.

I was wrong.

 Rene Astudillo (left) and David Anthony Dezern's wedding ceremony (middle) (Source:  Filipinas Magazine,  June 2004. Photo courtesy of Rene Astudillo and David Anthony Dezern)

Rene Astudillo (left) and David Anthony Dezern's wedding ceremony (middle) (Source: Filipinas Magazine, June 2004. Photo courtesy of Rene Astudillo and David Anthony Dezern)

In the two decades that followed, marriage equality movements sprang in many states. Ballot initiatives and state legislations put same-sex marriage front and center in America. Favorable public opinion went from minority to majority, and same-sex marriage finally became legal in all but 13 states, up until 2015. And as a pleasant surprise, in 2012, my niece Sheila Faye married her partner, Kimberly, in New York, one of the states where same-sex marriage has become legal.

Then this. The landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26, 2015 sent America and the world a clear message: Gay men and women are not second-class citizens, and that the constitution grants us the right of equal dignity in the eyes of the law.

For me and for many of my LGBT peers, federal recognition of same-sex marriage is what that piece of paper David and I continue to hold in our document files really should mean -- giving us the exact same rights and privileges that the marriage licenses of my parents, siblings and heterosexual friends automatically entitled them to.

Although the revoked marriage license we now keep as a mere memento does not become binding again with the Supreme Court ruling, we both harbor the thought and assurance that we now have the option to (again) get married if ever we choose to -- this time, for real and with full benefits (and not having to camp out in the rain).


In a 1993 op-ed piece I wrote for Filipinas magazine, I asserted that not in my entire lifetime would this country ever see the legalization of same-sex marriage. I was wrong.

And while not every same-sex couple would choose to get married -- as is the case with many heterosexuals -- we celebrate the fact that gay marriage will no longer be different from or substandard to the marriage contract entered into by our heterosexual counterparts.

The concluding paragraph of the Supreme Court's majority opinion says it best: "No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family... (The challengers) ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."

We can finally get rid of the phrase "gay marriage" or "same-sex marriage." With the historic ruling from the high court, we can now just call it -- plainly -- "marriage."

Not separate, but equal.

One day, our revoked marriage license (see photo) will bring a smile to anyone who sees it: We weren't called husband and husband or spouses. Rather, "first applicant" and "second applicant."

 15 Federal Benefits Same-Sex Couples Can Now Look Forward To (Source: www.pbs.org)

15 Federal Benefits Same-Sex Couples Can Now Look Forward To (Source: www.pbs.org)


 Rene Astudillo

Rene Astudillo

Rene Astudillo is the executive director of the Lupus Foundation of Northern California and former executive director of the Asian American Journalists Association. He is the author of a cookbook, My Bay Kitchen, and a news satire, “The Adobo Chronicles,” both of which are spin offs from his blogs of the same title.


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