One Couple's Journey to Marriage Equality
Courtesy Photo John Vieira and Brad Stauffer at their second wedding, in 2004.
When most newly engaged couples imagine their wedding day, they picture it as a singular event -- one ceremony that will bind them together, forever.
For LGBT couples like Brad Stauffer and John Vieira, the dream is different. The pair have celebrated three weddings over the past decade, and if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Prop 8, California's ban on gay marriage, they will soon be newlyweds again.
California's rollercoaster with marriage equality began in 2004, when then-mayor Gavin Newsom began flouting the law by allowing gay couples to marry in San Francisco. But Stauffer and Vieira's journey began long before that, in the now-defunct gay country-western bar The Rawhide in SOMA, where they met on September 7, 1992. They were paired up for a circle dance, exchanged pleasantries, and as Stauffer puts it, "by the time we circled back to each other, we were in love."
"We danced the rest of the evening together," he says, "and we've been together ever since."
Ten years after their first meeting, the couple decided to throw themselves a "blessing ceremony" to formally and publicly acknowledge their lifetime commitment. At the time, Stauffer explains, "We were not expecting to ever be able to marry." But just two years later, Newsom gave them and other couples the opportunity to do just that. Stauffer and Vieira, then living in L.A., flew to San Francisco and were legally married for the first time under the dome of City Hall -- just one day before the California Supreme Court put a stop to Newsom's weddings.
Since then, gay marriage in California has been in a state of nonstop legal limbo. The state Supreme Court ruled that Newsom's marriages be annulled in the the fall of 2004. "Our marriage was taken away," Stauffer recalls.
The couple's next chance at matrimony came four years later, when the court reversed itself in June 2008 and ruled that LGBT couples could, in fact, marry. Wary that the opportunity wouldn't last, Stauffer and Vieira rushed to tie the knot yet again, this time in West Hollywood Park, which was used to facilitate the overflow of wedding ceremonies. Their instinct was right -- Prop. 8 passed in November 2008, banning gay marriage in California. This time, however, weddings that took place before Prop 8. passed were not annulled.
As the controversial law has inched its way through the courts, engaged LGBT couples who were not married between June and November of 2008 have had to put their wedding plans on hold. Although their current marriage remains recognized by California law, Stauffer and Vieira have been anxiously awaiting for the final decision: The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on Prop. 8.
With so many weddings in their past -- and perhaps, in their future -- when do they celebrate their anniversary? From the day they met, September 7, 1992, 21 years ago.
If Prop. 8 is overturned, Stauffer says, "We would probably marry again. I think we'd keep getting married until it stuck forever."