Twelve years ago, I photographed several gay families with children for El Mundo in Spain. I was told that these photos moved people to tears, and started a shift in the conversation. I like to think that the love of these families for their children triumphed over the hatred inherited by years of misunderstanding and fear.
When I was assigned by Magazine, the large Sunday supplement of El Mundo, to photograph a gathering of gay families with children in San Francisco, organized by All Our Families coalition, I didn’t know that the article accompanied by my family portraits would change the world — or at least impact public opinion in Spain.
The love of these families, apparent in the photos and in the magnificent article by USC Religious Studies professor Juan Herrero Brasas, titled “Papa y Papi Me Miman” (Daddy and Poppy Love Me), traveled across the ocean and sparked a national debate. The photos were shown on TV numerous times, and were plastered on the walls of bookstores in Lavapies, Madrid’s gay district. I heard from my sister’s hairdresser, who was moved to tears to see these happy gay families with children recognized in the Spanish national media, inspired by the dream that one day he might be able to have that.
Same-sex weddings and adoptions weren’t legal anywhere in the U.S. at the time (2000). In fact, gay marriage was not legal anywhere in the world. Those San Francisco parents could form civil unions but couldn’t get married, and went through many legal loops in order to be able to co-adopt. They fought for their children like nobody else I knew.
A few months later, the Netherlands approved same-sex marriage. It became the first nation to do so, on April 17, 2001. Two years later, on January 30, 2003, Belgium did the same. In November, 2003, the Massachusetts high court got the ball rolling in the U.S. saying that banning same-sex marriages was unconstitutional according to state law, and gave legislators 180 days to legalize gay weddings. On February 12, 2004, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom allowed gay weddings to be performed by city clerks. The families I had photographed four years earlier could finally get married.
I convinced El Mundo’s editor to let me cover the weddings at the San Francisco City Hall. I traveled 350 miles to San Francisco and photographed nearly 50 weddings in one day, interviewing the newlyweds. I remember the words of Anne Peacock, a high school teacher who married her sweetheart: “This issue really does need to have a human face. It is easy for people to hate ‘the other’ but much more difficult, and even absurd, to hate your teacher or cousin or neighbor or daughter or nephew.”
A few days after the story came out in print in Spain, California banned same-sex marriages, and the 4,000 weddings performed between February 12 and March 11 were annulled.
Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in the U.S. and 1,000 couples were married the first day, May 17, 2004.
While California went on to legal battles over this issue, Canada and Spain were finalizing plans to legalize same-sex marriages, which they did on June 28 and June 30, 2005, respectively. The tables had been turned. It was Spain’s turn to inspire California to achieve marriage equality.
On June 16, 2008, finally, the Supreme Court of California ruled the ban unconstitutional. But the joy lasted only until Election Day on November 5, 2008, due to the passage of Proposition 8, the so dubbed “Marriage Protection Act”. This would later also be found unconstitutional by the Ninth District Court of Appeals, but same-sex marriages are still not allowed in California, pending further appeals. (The trial has been written into a play, “8″, by Oscar-winning author Dustin Lance Black, and was performed in LA with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Kevin Bacon.)
On November 6, 2012, voters in Maine, Maryland approved same-sex marriage by ballot measures, while voters in Minnesota rejected a ballot that would have changed their constitution to deny deny same-sex couples the right to marry. And voters in Washington approved a same-sex marriage law passed earlier this year.
President Barack Obama brought the conversation out of the closet and turned it into a national debate. Supporting same-sex marriage is finally no longer a political taboo. It’s something we can talk about. The president’s words possibly encouraged voters to support same-sex marriage in these four states. Incredibly, this is the first time that opponents of “redefining marriage” lose a statewide referendum; they had won the previous 32 times.
By now, Argentina, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Portugal, South Africa and Sweden have joined the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada and Spain in recognizing same-sex relationships. Brazil approved same-sex civil unions and Israel honors same-sex marriages performed in other countries even though they are not allowed within the country. Even Mexico City and Quintana Roo (Mexico), as well as Connecticut, DC, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Maine, Maryland and Washington now perform gay weddings. But the people who inspired many others, those original San Francisco families in my black-and-white photographs, still cannot get married at home.
The recognition of same-sex marriages is a civil rights issue. It’s about people being treated equally. Let’s leave Satan out of this; and the fear of children becoming homosexuals just from being raised by homosexuals, as if it were some kind of disease. That is so last century!
I hear that certain “marriage defenders” fear that legalizing same-sex marriage will result in the desire to legalize polygamy or marriage between a man and dog. They say they defend tradition. But I don’t believe in defending tradition for tradition’s sake. You don’t have to go back very far in time when it was also tradition for black people to drink from “colored only” water fountains. Backtrack a few years more and it was tradition to own slaves.
What does “defending the sanctity of marriage” mean, anyhow? I don’t understand. Shouldn’t divorce be illegal then, too? How about pre-marital sex? Shouldn’t we ban that, too?
Let’s defend the sanctity of love. If people want to get married, let them. Let love triumph over hate.