THE BLOG

Witnessing History, With Children

06/28/2013 04:10 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

Iconic lesbian activist Phyllis Lyon, walking arm-in-arm with California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, stops at the top step of the grand staircase in City Hall's rotunda. She looks equal parts powerful and frail in her royal purple blouse, signature round eyeglasses, and infectious, thousand-watt smile.

Born in 1924, she's clocked a lifetime of confrontations with homophobia, six decades of relentless activism, 56 years of commitment to her partner Del Martin (who died in 2008) -- all of it bringing her here: to a spotlighted staircase, a bevy of television cameras, and an adoring, wall-to-wall crowd roaring with applause. Lt. Governor Newsom and Mayor Lee assist Ms. Lyon down the steps, to her seat of honor, below the podium where a younger generation will speak about today's triumphs at the Supreme Court.

This. This is the moment when reality hits, and I burst into tears: Prop 8 and DOMA are dead.

My wife Tracie and I conceived our first child on February 12, 2004, the day Newsom, then the mayor of San Francisco, sent shock waves across America by issuing a marriage license to Lyon and Martin, kicking off what we now call the Winter of Love. Since then, the milestones of California's marriage equality movement have peppered our family scrapbook: two weddings (one invalidated, one legal), scores of protests and celebrations, a roller coaster ride of wins and losses.

And now this.

My two sons, 8-year-old B-Man and 6-year-old K-Bird, they're here at City Hall with me today, in the balcony above the action, a place we chose so they'd have an unobstructed view of history unfolding before their eyes.

Earlier this morning, my boys had stood against the balcony railing, holding up signs they had crafted on the spot, with the markers and drawing pads I'd tucked in their backpacks late last night.

B-Man's sign features an 8 inside a circle with a line through it, surrounded by "No H8" icons. On his sign, K-Bird sketched three couples: boy-boy, girl-girl, and girl-boy, and wrote "equality" above them, a word I spelled for him while simultaneously answering questions for a San Francisco Magazine reporter.

The interview sounded something like this:

Reporter: "What were the first words that came to mind when you heard the decision?"

Me to Reporter: "Suddenly my marriage license has 1,138 more rights attached to it."

K-Bird: "Mom, how do you spell 'equality'?"

Me to K-Bird: "E-Q-U . . . "

Me to Reporter: "Now my marriage license holds the same value as that of every other couple who lives on my block."

Me to K-Bird: "-A-L-I . . . "

Reporter: "What do you think it means to your kids?"

Me to Reporter: "Kids are all about fairness."

B-Man: "Mom, will you open my Goldfish crackers?"

Me to Reporter: "They don't like it when something unfair happens. For the past five years, these guys have been tracking this unfair law called Prop 8, waiting to hear that it's finally been erased from the books."

Me to B-Man: "Here, now hold the box upright so you don't spill them."

Me to Reporter: "Today fairness has been restored, and that will give my kids a sense of relief, of security, of justice."

Me to K-Bird: "-T-Y."

But that was half an hour ago, and now the guys are tired. After a voluntary 5 a.m. wake-up, a 6 a.m. train ride, a high-speed trek up several flights of subway steps and across Civic Center Plaza, followed by too much time spent standing up, who could expect these boys to be anything but tired? So they're sitting on marble floor, more interested in their snack bags than in the speeches about to commence.

But Mommy's having A Moment here, and I want to share it with them, so I tussle their hair and say, "Guys, do you get what's happening? Prop 8 and DOMA are done."

B-Man says, "Really? Prop 8 is gone? For all of time?"

"Looks like it," I nod.

K-Bird says, "I'm a little confused."

Of course he's confused. K-Bird's understanding of a "win" includes a scoreboard, nine innings, and a mom who jumps up and down, shouts, and dances when her team (go Giants!) prevails. What he witnessed here were a few outbursts of cheering from the crowd, followed by Mom checking her cell phone to glean why they were cheering. (Shout out to Tracie for participating in absentia by texting me updates when my Twitter feed crashed.)

I tell K-Bird, "The grown-ups are a little confused, too. We're waiting to hear more details, but for sure, DOMA and Prop 8 are on their way out."

We fist bump, and the boys go back to their snack bags.

I'm sure that my own sense of disbelief (and, let's be honest, distrust) are contributing to K-Bird's confusion. Even while I'm reassuring him this is a win, doubt whispers, "Really? This is it? What's the catch?" My marriage rights have been toyed with so many times over the past nine years, it's hard to believe someone won't pop up yelling, "Ha! Just kidding!" and send us back to the ballot box to start the fight all over again.

As doubt wavers on my periphery, I take in the vision of Phyllis Lyon again, the wake of history swirling around her. I listen to Gavin Newsom's speech, receiving his gravelly voice as soothing music, a song I heard time and again throughout the Winter of Love, carrying the message I will fight for you, even when doing so puts my career on the line. Behind him, I see my friends John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, tireless, compassionate, articulate, loving advocates for marriage equality. Out in the crowd I see my dear friends Lisa and Jenni, who celebrated their "love wedding" on June 8, who now get to celebrate a legal one. I think of my friend Erica who soon can sponsor her wife Alex to live in the U.S., who will be free to move from England back to California if they so choose. Under the power of all that's happening in front of me, doubt recedes. I savor the notions that Tracie and I now hold a fully vested marriage license and that, after five years of assuring my children "Prop 8 will lose eventually," I get to say the sweetest "I told you so" of all: See guys? Love wins.

This post previously appeared on lesbianfamily.com.