The Year of Equality

03/06/2015 04:55 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

After the San Francisco City Hall weddings of 2004, a group of newlyweds, community organizers, and dedicated activists came together to plan a historic event: the first ever float celebrating the marriages of same-sex couples in the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade. Led by the Gay Asian Pacific Alliance (GAPA) and the newly formed API Equality, this team took great care to incorporate Chinese wedding symbols and traditions to convey the universal joy of the newlyweds. Groups including Chinese for Affirmative Action, APIQWTC, the Network on Religion and Justice, and Marriage Equality USA joined the effort to make this dream a reality. A tradition was born, as marriage equality themes appeared for years to come in both the San Francisco and Los Angeles new year parades, building on the work of API LGBT groups such as GAPA with its long, proud history of parade floats -- and now most recently the Tet Parade in the Vietnamese community in Orange County welcomed its first LGBT contingent.

When John and I got married in 2004, our City Hall wedding took place right before our family Lunar New Year party, where each year we gather with 30 or more cousins hosted by the Chinese side of my family. We hadn't planned to announce our wedding at the family new year gathering, but it turned out that one my cousins had brought champagne for the occasion and proposed a toast that turned our annual family festivities into a spontaneous wedding reception.

My own parents were only able to marry thanks to the California Supreme Court's landmark decision in 1948 that overturned the state ban on interracial marriage. My parents had three children -- but didn't realize as we were growing up that one of us would be gay and want to marry. It was exactly 60 years later that the California Supreme Court once again ruled in favor of marriage equality in 2008, this time overturning the state ban on marriage for same-sex couples. John and I had the honor of being one of the plaintiff couples in that case, and it was a dream come true to see our parents witness the next generation in our family winning the freedom to marry as we got legally married surrounded by friends and family that year.

During the California case for marriage equality, API community groups -- both LGBT and allies -- came together to author an amicus brief to the California Supreme Court making the case for marriage equality from an Asian American perspective. Thanks to leaders too numerous to name, over 60 API organizations from our many communities signed on urging the court to learn from the history of how Asian Americans had suffered from marriage inequality, and how LGBT people should not have to face that same discrimination. This coalition also worked tirelessly during the Proposition 8 campaign and afterwards, engaging in the countless personal conversations that have now led to majority support for marriage equality.

Over the past two years, John and I have traveled to Asia to speak about LGBT rights and marriage equality. We have met many inspiring activists, and we had the honor of introducing the marriage ceremony that highlighted the Pink Dot Okinawa rally and celebration last summer. Change is in the air, as in just the past year we have seen a marriage bill proposal in Taiwan, progress towards partnership recognition in Tokyo and Yokohama in Japan, and signs of progress in countries including Vietnam, China, Nepal, Thailand and more.

Most recently, Rep. Mike Honda tweeted a picture hugging his grandchild with the caption, "As the proud grandpa of a transgender grandchild, I hope she can feel safe at school without fear of being bullied." These are true family values, transcending all languages and cultures. As we mark the beginning of the lunar new year -- and prepare for another U.S. Supreme Court ruling this summer -- what a great reminder that it is this simple message of love and respect that is changing hearts and minds in our movement towards full equality in all aspects of our lives.

Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis, together for nearly three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. They are leaders in the nationwide grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA.