SAN FRANCISCO — Tamara Lange remembers the call. The former ACLU staff attorney was on an airport bus to a UCLA conference in early February 2004 when the word came through: San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom was working on a plan to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights remembers, too. The legal strategy — the city would declare the state’s marriage laws unconstitutional — carried obvious legal risks. "Our initial reaction was to try to stop them," he recalls. But as Minter and NCLR executive director Kate Kendell discussed it over the weekend, "we kind of shifted. Why should we try to stop this? It’s wonderful that the mayor and the city want to step up for our community."