Noah Berger / Associated Press

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, center, who as San Francisco mayor pushed for gay marriage licenses, leads a celebration at City Hall. The crowd includes Willie Brown, right, ex-mayor and Assembly speaker.

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San Francisco celebrates gay marriage rulings as a 'love day'

Published: Thursday, Jun. 27, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 10A
Last Modified: Monday, Sep. 30, 2013 - 3:30 pm

SAN FRANCISCO – "Happy love day!"

So sang one toddler at the encouragement of her dreadlocked mother as the two strolled through a bustling Castro District on Wednesday afternoon.

On this day, in this city – where diversity is the standard rather than the exception – the signs of celebration were in some cases subtle: A man wearing a rainbow T-shirt riding his vintage bike through the Mission. Cars honking as they passed City Hall. A toddler wishing strangers a "happy love day."

But whether in quiet tribute or the bold displays of celebration rocking the streets of the iconic Castro District, the joy felt in San Francisco over the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings was palpable.

"Personally, this is something I've been fighting for for 13 years," said Luis Canales, 27, one of the hundreds of people who packed San Francisco City Hall early Wednesday as the rulings were announced.

At the age of 14, Canales said, he remembers sneaking out of his bedroom at night to uproot an anti-gay yard sign his devoutly religious family had erected.

Thirteen years later, Canales found himself leaping for joy inside the City Hall rotunda – the epicenter of the gay marriage debate in California – as the morning's news sunk in.

The rulings electrified a crowd that had been waiting with equal parts excitement and anxiety. As the rotunda rumbled with applause, a cadre of longtime activists and local politicians descended a stairway, arms outstretched in a show of victory.

Leading the celebrants were Mayor Edwin Lee and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom – who in 2004, as the city's mayor, sparked California's marriage battles by ordering the city clerk to marry same-sex couples. Gripping their arms was a fragile-looking, but elated Phyllis Lyon, who, along with her late partner, Del Martin, became early icons in the fight for gay rights.

"It's not a city of dreamers, but a city of doers," Newsom told the roaring crowd. "We don't just tolerate diversity, we celebrate our diversity."

Hours later, that philosophy was on display as a colorful cast of religious leaders gathered outside the famed Grace Cathedral. Hate and discrimination, they told a crowd, must be overcome with love and tolerance.

Joining in the celebration were Nynke Koopmans and Heaven Walker, who plan to wed at City Hall the first day they are legally able.

The women are raising a child together. The 3-year-old recently landed in the emergency room with a broken leg, and the difference in the two parents' standing – Walker is the boy's biological mother – became clear, they said.

That experience made the demise of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that much more important to them.

"We just want to be clear: We are a family," said Walker, 32. "We'd like to have more children and we don't want that to be complicated."

Neither woman was raised in San Francisco, but they said they have embraced the city as home, in large part because of the community's acceptance of gays and lesbians.

"That's why I stay here – even though it's so wildly expensive," Walker laughed.

Miles away in the Castro, volunteers handed out flags, police erected barricades and TV news vans lined the streets in anticipation of a massive party planned for the evening.

But by midafternoon, it was clear nobody was waiting.

People packed the streets and restaurants, hugging and cheering. Vendors were out in force selling gay-pride paraphernalia. People shouted congratulations from balconies and bars.

The "love day" party had started.

Call The Bee's Kim Minugh, (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter @kim_minugh.

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