Gay Dads Take Vows
A personal perspective on the San Francisco civil marriage disobedience
by Chris Caldwell
© 2004, Chris Caldwell
Our 13-year old daughter thought we were a bit hasty in our plans, but after 23 years together, it sure didn’t seem like a last-minute thing to my partner and me.
We had been following the news from San Francisco, and on Saturday morning — Valentine’s Day — decided to make the trek from Los Angeles to get legally married at San Francisco’s City Hall.
We waited, joyfully, in line with hundreds of other couples who had come from all over the United States and abroad to be legally declared “spouses for life.” Thanks to the brilliant work of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, city staff, hundreds of volunteers and the wonderful, tireless gay and lesbian advocates like Jon Davidson of Lambda Legal and Kate Kendell of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, more than 2,500 of us now have marriage licenses from the State of California.
Rich Llewellyn and Chris Caldwell
San Francisco city hall, February 14, 2004
In 23 years, Rich and I never had a Valentine’s quite like this.
We previously registered as domestic partners. We’ve put all the protections we can in place to protect our relationship and our kids, 13-year old twins. But marriage feels different. It’s much more powerful, and it’s also a more tangible thing for our kids. They know what “married” means, and they know that their dads, who love each other and love them very much, have previously been denied access to this institution.
We all grow up with an understanding of what marriage is. We are taught as very young children that to have a successful marriage is a worthy goal in life. Part of the reason this whole thing seems so scary to some people is marriage connotes so much more than just legal formalities. It is a social institution and an easily understood social recognition. If you don’t think so, try explaining civil unions to two 13 year olds. Marriage, they get it. Civil unions, you can just see their eyes glazing over.
But our getting married isn’t just about creating something for the kids to understand. It’s a desire to put into place protections they can’t comprehend, things we’d never really even want them thinking about at 13. Rich and I want nothing more than to be able to provide for and protect our children. Our children shouldn’t be left vulnerable because some laws don’t want to recognize the nearly quarter-century their dads have spent making a life together.
Rich and I always said we would get married when it was legal in the United States. I’m a realist (and a lawyer), but I’d also like to think we’ll have it without the clouds of legal uncertainty in our lifetime. But no matter what, nothing can take away from the profoundly powerful moment in our lives as we stood together and took those vows — the same vows I grew up hearing — “to have and to hold, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.”
I serve on the board of the Family Pride Coalition, a national organization exclusively dedicated to securing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parents and their families. We work every day to ensure that all our families will one day be able to secure legal recognition of their relationships. There are too many horror stories of families being torn apart, children left in limbo or removed from our homes. Marriage is our issue. The protections that come with it are too valuable; the lack of those protections too costly.
Wouldn’t we all be better off with more people lining up for hours in the rain to accept legal responsibility for each other and for their children?
Our family, the more than 2,500 (and counting!) couples who got married, the staff and volunteers, the gay rights advocates, Mayor Newsom and everyone who was part of this weekend is part of history. For so many of us, we just wanted to marry the person we love and this was our chance. But what came to us with that opportunity was a wonderful, positive, emotional energy that leaves you filled with hope about the promise and the real potential of justice for all.
You just don’t get a chance to have all of that very often.
© 2004, Chris Caldwell
Chris Caldwell is a lawyer in private practice in Los Angeles
and a member of the Family Pride Coalition Board of Directors.
His spouse for life, Rich Llewellyn, is Chief of Staff for
L.A. City Councilmember Eric Garcetti.
Family Pride Coalition
P.O. Box 65327, Washington, DC 20035