Gay Marriage's Secret Weapons: Local Politicians, like New Paltz, N.Y., Mayor Jason West, Are the Most Effective Activists for Marriage Equality

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Openly gay Nyack, N.Y., mayor John Shields is not performing same-sex marriages, but he's not sitting on file sidelines. He is suing the New York State Department of Health, which regulates marriage licenses, and lobbying state "lawmakers for support. "We're taking a different strategy, and my lawyer's experience is, the more strategies you take on a civil rights issue, the better off you are," says Shields.

While presidential candidates and members of Congress from both parties turn their backs on marriage equality, local mayors, city councils, and clerks are taking real action. Since San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom began marrying same-sex couples on February 12, a cascade of municipalities from Seattle to San Jose, Calif., to Iowa City have tried not always successfully--to get their gay residents hitched.

Local officials say they are not trying to break the law but are simply doing what's fair. But why are they willing to take larger political risks than most stale or federal lawmakers? "Honestly, I think mayors are closer to this issue. They are dealing with LGBT constituents on a daily basis," says Rod Colvin, research director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Policy Institute. "They have a much closer daily interaction with the community, and those communities include gay and lesbian people."

That was evident on Match 10 when file Asbm3r Park, NA., city council reluctantly announced the city had to stop marrying gay citizens because of legal action from the state's attorney general. "I've had friends who were beaten for no other reason than they were gay," councilman John M. Loffredo told reporters. "For us to deny anyone the right to marry is wrong." Council members said they would seek a court judgment to continue issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

"It's not surprising that you would see this happening in urban areas like San Francisco, and second, in smaller towns where a liberal mayor and a liberal constituency can make a difference," says Jonathan Rauch, author of file forthcoming Gay Marriage: Why Is It Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America. That was certainly the case in New Paltz, N.Y., where Mayor Jason West married 25 same-sex couples in late February. …