LGBTQ+ couples celebrate 20th anniversary of historical San Francisco’s “Winter of Love”

Local officials joined LGBTQ+ couples this Valentine’s Day to celebrate the 20th anniversary of San Francisco’s “Winter of Love”.

Ceremony to celebrate Winter of Love in San Francisco, with LGBQT+ couples and the city's mayor gathered to celebrate.
Image: Via X - @SF_DPH

Valentine’s Day was made all the more sweet at San Francisco’s City Hall this February 14 when local officials joined LGBTQ+ couples and community advocates to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the city’s “Winter of Love”. The romantically-titled event refers to the month-long spring when the city first began issuing same-sex marriage licenses in 2004. 

Over the course of February 2004, more than 4,000 couples gathered at San Francisco City Hall to have their unions certified by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom. Nearly 200 couples returned to City Hall this week to commemorate the 20th anniversary of their unions with vow renewal ceremonies, while others gathered to say “I do” for the first time. 

Of the LGBTQ+ couples who returned to renew their vows, Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis were among the first to be wed during 2004’s “Winter of Love”. 

“When we said ‘I do,’ we felt for the first time ever that our government was treating us as equal human beings as LGBTQ people, and that our love was being given full dignity and respect under the law,” said the couple in a shared speech at San Francisco City Hall yesterday. 

“It was the most romantic Valentine’s Day weekend imaginable, with City Hall filled with couples representing the full diversity of our city and country in all its beauty, declaring their love for each other,” added Gaffney and Lewis. 

Also speaking at the anniversary celebration was San Francisco Mayor London Breed. In addition to presiding over Gaffney and Lewis’ vow-renewal ceremony, Mayor Breed shared a speech in which she commemorated the city’s historic inclusivity, citing San Francisco’s first drag laureate, D’Arcy Dollinger, and the creation of the city’s Office of Transgender Initiatives. 


“In the face of challenges, in the face of hopelessness and despair, especially with the other states around this country, we answer the call with love,” Breed said. 

“When others are trying to write a narrative about The City, it is up to each and every one of us to tell the real story of San Francisco,” she said. “This place has always been and will continue to be a beacon of hope, of love, of prosperity, of opportunity.” 

Similarly speaking at the “Winter of Love” commemoration event was Supervisor Matt Dorsey, who referred to 2004’s “Winter of Love” as “one of the most moving and personally meaningful endeavors” of his career. 

Unfortunately, 2004’s “Winter of Love” was cut short in March, when the California Supreme Court ordered the San Francisco city government to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Jeanne Rizzo and Pali Cooper were the first same-sex couple to be formally denied a marriage license following the Supreme Court ruling.  

Following the denial, Rizzo said that she and Cooper were approached by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, a non-profit, public interest LGBTQ+ law firm, who joined their lawsuit seeking marriage equalityBy September 2008, Rizzo and Cooper succeeded in their quest and were legally married by then-Mayor Newsom. 

“Every single day, I couldn’t be more blessed than to be with this amazing woman,” said Rizzo of Cooper. “It’s just a privilege to have been a plaintiff and to represent,” she added. 

In a final speech delivered to crowds gathered at San Francisco’s City Hall on Wednesday, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman closed out the “Winter of Love” commemoration with a quote from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., saying that the arc of the universe is a long and winding road, which San Francisco helped bend toward justice. 

“When we unite and work together to advance the vision that we share for a more just and more equal America, San Francisco actually can help deliver that,” concluded Mandelman. 

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