Just before Valentine’s Day Erwin Gomez was featured on Fox Morning News, doing make-up for a bride-to-be as part of the morning show’s “Wedding in a Week” feature. It was just over a week later that Gomez found himself back on the show with his partner, James Packard.
This time, however, they were the featured married couple.
When the long-term couple — they’ve been together since 1995 — heard that San Francisco was issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, they knew it was time to act. Six years prior in February, they were married in Amsterdam and now they had the opportunity to make that anniversary the same for a U.S. marriage.
“It was just meant to be,” says Gomez of the fortuitous timing of San Francisco’s marriage decision.
Gomez, 39, is the national make-up artist for Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon, while Packard, 35, is a real estate developer working out of their suburban Maryland home. The comforts of that home would have been welcome when they arrived in San Francisco, where Packard spent the night on the sidewalk waiting in line behind eight others for the chance to get legally married. Gomez, who hadn’t had sleep for more than twenty-four hours because of work, grabbed a little sleep at a hotel while Packard held down the sidewalk.
“I’m the princess in the relationship,” he laughs. He did make sure, however, to bring Packard a pillow and blanket before turning in.
“They had said on the news that they were only going to do fifty [marriages],” says Packard. “All through the night all you kept seeing show up was satellite truck after satellite truck, more people in pajamas, more people just showing up to be there, to be a part of it. It was beautiful.”
After Packard’s night outdoors with the growing crowds, the pair found themselves in the unexpectedly heady position of filling out the paperwork to get married.
“It was the first time I ever felt weak in my knees,” Gomez recalls. “I have never been so nervous in my life.”
Now, of course, the thousands of San Francisco gay and lesbian marriages have become a cause celebre for both supporters and opponents across the nation. At Metro Weekly‘s press time, President George W. Bush had called for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, and Maryland state lawmakers have introduced a number of bills, including one to invalidate same-sex marriages performed in other states.
First interviewed at the San Francisco courthouse where they were married, Gomez and Packard have been featured and interviewed by a barrage of media, from the Washington Post to CNN to almost every local outlet in a media-saturated town.
Packard says the media attention is not their goal, but the chance to make a change for gay and lesbian couples is imperative to take on. He compares the current civil rights fight to the gains made through Stonewall, saying that for marriage rights “the time has come.”
They plan to file as a married couple for tax and property issues in Maryland. They have sent a letter to Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), and plan to testify on gay marriage issues before the Maryland legislature. Their goal now, they say, is to gather stories of how the lack of marriage rights has impacted gay and lesbian couples — from joint property ownership and tax issues to inheritance and hospital visitation rights — to bring to legislators and others to show how the issue impacts real-life couples.
In the coming weeks, Packard says, they plan to have a web site active for people to share their experiences, and they’re taking e-mail stories at email@example.com. As the marriage battle continues to grow both nationally and locally, they say they’ll be fighting every step of the way.
“We’re fighting for our rights,” says Gomez. “I feel very proud of it. Especially me, being a Filipino-American. I was raised in America for so many years and learned about love and commitment. I have every intention of doing whatever it takes.”
UPDATE: Washingtonian Magazine had a follow-up with Erwin Gomez in November of 2011 with allegations that there was an entirely different story happening with the pair’s relationship and wedding. Read more here.