BERKELEY --Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, a former city council woman and mother of a lesbian daughter, joined the crowd at Old City Hall late afternoon June 26 celebrating the Supreme Court decisions upholding gay marriage.
"Here, standing in front of City Hall, I feel like I've come full circle," Skinner said. "My very first act in this building, the night I was sworn in to the Berkeley City Council, was to vote for the very first domestic partner benefits that were given to city employees in any city in the USA."
The domestic partner ordinance that Skinner and fellow council members signed Dec. 4, 1984 came just four months after the Berkeley School Board passed a similar measure.
Getting the council and school board to adopt the ordinance was a five-year process, said Tom Brougham, a former city employee and past Peralta Community College District trustee who played a critical role formulating the domestic partnership concept.
Brougham began work for the city in 1979, just one year after the council adopted an ordinance making discrimination based on sexual orientation unlawful throughout the city.
Brougham said, however, city rules offering benefits only to married spouses of city employees was discriminatory, excluding workers who could not legally marry their same-sex partners.
Six months after taking the city job, Brougham posed the problem to administrators: "I am submitting my application to the City of Berkeley, as my employer, to enroll my domestic partner, Barry Warren, in the city's group health coverage," he wrote.
While the city turned him down, the letter was historic, not just in its demand for partner benefits equal to those for married persons, but because Brougham used the phrase he and Warren had coined: "domestic partner."
"We were looking for something quasi-legal sounding and that was nonsexual," Brougham said in a phone interview. "We wanted to emphasize the everyday living and sharing of people. What was important was that we were a household. We were taking care of each other every day, doing all the normal family things together -- that's where 'domestic' comes in."
They paired "domestic" with the commonly understood term, "partnership," Brougham said.
In the beginning, Brougham and Warren worked alone with little success. "People would say nice things, but it was too complicated," he recalled.
In 1981, Brougham shared the concept with Harry Britt, successor to assassinated San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk. Britt got San Francisco supervisors to approve allowing domestic partnerships, but Mayor Dianne Feinstein vetoed the measure. News of the veto helped spread the idea, Brougham said.
It was around that time that the East Bay Gay and Lesbian Democratic Club -- now called the East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club -- was formed and quickly joined the fight for domestic partner status for city workers.
Club members, including gay rights activist Leland Traiman, devised a strategy to educate the gay and straight communities on the question, and to get council and school board candidate support.
"Every piece of literature Berkeley Citizen's Action (the organization supporting the left-leaning candidates) put out said, 'support domestic partnership,'" said Traiman, who chaired the city's Domestic Partnership Task Force, which wrote the domestic partner policy.
"There was a lot of work behind the scenes with the unions and the HMOs and with city council members," Brougham said. "The East Bay Lesbian Gay Democratic Club was the thread holding all those things together."
Education around domestic partnership helped move people toward a better understanding of the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community; that would eventually lead to today's acceptance of marriage equality, Brougham said.
"That was the era when we kind of moved from the joy of coming out to settling down into families," which would include adoption and custody battles, he said. The community also faced the AIDS epidemic.
"Suddenly family matters and health matters became very prominent," he said. "I think domestic partnership helped make people aware that we were fighting for the right to have families and that we were not getting the benefits."
Domestic partnership was adopted in 1985 by the newly incorporated city of West Hollywood, and from there, spread to cities, universities and employers across the nation.
Nancy Skinner said she hopes her daughter will now return home to California to wed her girlfriend.
And Tom Brougham is planning marriage with his partner of 38 years.
"It's a wonderful time for our community," Brougham said. "I'm just astounded that I've lived to see this day."