Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Gavin's Gay Gamble: Mayor Gavin Newsom Makes San Francisco a Mecca for Gay Marriage. What Was This Straight Guy Thinking?

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Gavin's Gay Gamble: Mayor Gavin Newsom Makes San Francisco a Mecca for Gay Marriage. What Was This Straight Guy Thinking?

Article excerpt

There is no doubt that in the weeks since San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom ordered the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples, he has become something like a rock star to many gay men and lesbians.

The hunky 36-year-old Newsom--who is straight and married to Court TV anchor Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom--has transformed himself from simply a Bay Area politician to a ballsy leader in the national gay and lesbian rights movement. Three months into his term, he has openly thumbed his nose at California's Proposition 22, a measure passed by voters in 2000 that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. He called President George W. Bush's support for amending the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage "shameful" and "cowardly." The Democrat has also placed himself at odds with with openly gay Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank, who says the same-sex marriage move is a serious distraction from other legal battles.

"We are talking about a question of the constitutionality of Proposition 22," Newsom said in a recent interview with The Advocate. "I feel it is absolutely inconsistent with the state constitution, and I feel very strongly that it needed to be challenged, and we are challenging it."

Newsom's past provides few clues to his motives, and many political observers are still wondering why Newsom put such huge personal capital into gay and lesbian rights. Born into an affluent San Francisco family and armed with a political science degree from Santa Clara University, Newsom made millions in real estate ventures and as a restaurant owner in the Bay Area before holding political office. Mayor Willie Brown appointed him to the board of supervisors--San Francisco's city council equivalent--in 1997.

In the past, Newsom's voting record on gay issues has generally been good, though occasionally vague, says San Francisco supervisor Tom Ammiano, who is openly gay and who also ran for mayor in 2003. "We were from opposite ends of the political scale, and we did not "always get along," Ammiano says.

Newsom explains his history-making decision this way: "I had the opportunity to go to the State of the Union address and listen to the president's words [about gay marriage] and DOMA. I felt a great weight of responsibility as the mayor of a city that likes to practice what it preaches." He secretly began planning to marry gay and lesbian couples and convinced longtime lesbian rights activists Del Martin, 83, and Phyllis Lyon, 79, to be the first to get hitched on February 12--a day the courts were closed and one day before the start of a three-day weekend. [See time line, page 29.]

Newsom told The Advocate, "We wanted to put a human face on this, and Phyllis and Del were critical. Who could deny their loving and lifelong committed relationship? To deny them the same protections as married couples would be to deny them as human beings, not as theory."

As The Advocate went to press, 3,400 same-sex couples had been married in San Francisco, including Rosie and Kelli O'Donnell. But the legal battle continues. A San Francisco superior court judge could decide on March 29 to bar clerks from issuing any more licenses. A conservative group and the state attorney general have appealed directly to the California supreme court, asking it to immediately halt the marriages. A parallel fight has also begun in New York, where the 26-year-old Green Party mayor of New Paltz, Jason West, married 21 same-sex couples on February 20.

Newsom maintains he's in the right legally because the California constitution trumps Proposition 22. "I bear truth and faith and allegiance to the constitution--that is my oath and obligation--and nowhere does it allow us to discriminate against people," Newsom says.

Whatever the legal outcome, Newsom is taking an enormous political gamble, says Tobias Barrington Wolff, an assistant professor of law at the University of California, Davis, School of Law. …

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