Attorney who fought for gay-marriage rights weds partner

The eloquent San Francisco attorney who helped convince California judges that a ban on same-sex marriages was unconstitutional reaped the benefits of her hard work Friday.

Chief Deputy City Attorney Therese Stewart married her longtime partner, colleague Carole Scagnetti, in the elegant South Light Court room at City Hall on Friday afternoon.

Fittingly, the packed ceremony was a block away from the California Supreme Court building where Stewart earlier this summer argued for, and ultimately helped win, the right for same-sex couples to marry.

“It feels very good,” Stewart said. “The case was not about me, but there was a piece of me that was a part of it.”

It was the couple’s second ceremony in their 16-year partnership — and the first since the state high court ruled that same-sex marraiges are constitutional. Their first ceremony, which was in 1995, was a relatively small affair in the backyard of a friend’s house. This time, however, the couple was cheered like rock stars before a packed house consisting of family and admiring colleagues.

“These wonderful, talented attorneys personify the hopes and dreams and love that exist between so many couples in the country,” said David Helbraun, a San Francisco attorney and friend of the couple. “[Therese] deserves this day.”

Stewart joined the City Attorney’s Office as chief deputy in 2002 and first thought she’d be litigating contractor fraud. But she was soon thrown into the gay marriage spotlight, battling lawsuits from religious groups after Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2004 defied state law and began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Those licenses were later invalidated, but four years later Stewart was among the attorneys to litigate the case that would eventually lift the constitutional ban.

“Without Terry Stewart’s legal strategy, the California Supreme Court might never have taken its bold and important step forward to end discrimination in California,” according to Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for the mayor. “Terry’s hard work has moved us toward resolving one of the most important civil rights issues of our generation.”

Matt Dorsey, a spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office, praised Stewart’s courtroom mastery.

“No one has ever worked harder for her wedding,” Dorsey said.

Now the happy couple has to await the results November ballot measure Proposition 8, which would amend the state constitution to eliminate same-sex marriage.

Stewart said she’s “cautiously optimistic” the ban would be defeated. The latest poll found that 54 percent of the state’s likely voters oppose the measure, with only 40 percent in favor.

“I think people will fundamentally not want to write a ‘We don’t want you’ clause into our constitution,” she said. “But it’s going to be close, and it will take a lot of work to get the kind of margin we need to stave it off.”

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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