One year after San Francisco’s Winter of Love, the mayor has no apologies
SAN FRANCISCO – A year after San Francisco’s Winter of Love, Mayor Gavin Newsom is trying to keep the passion burning.The Democrat who allowed nearly 4,000 gay couples to tie the knot one year ago in defiance of California law is marking the anniversary by holding a reception for them at City Hall this weekend, by making it clear he has no regrets, and by criticizing his own party as too timid.”I can’t stand my party right now,” he said Tuesday in an address at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “Is it political expediency? Is it accommodation that we’re after? Or is it about standing up on principles and values?”In recent months, Newsom has been blamed by some politicians for feeding the backlash that led 11 states to pass anti-gay marriage amendments last November. Some fellow Democrats had told him his gay marriage advocacy is a losing proposition.But the 37-year-old Newsom has said he won’t back down and sees gay marriage as the dominant civil rights issue of his time.”If I’m the guy with the arrows in the back, so be it,” he said in a recent interview. “The day I stop is the day the U.S. Supreme Court does the right thing and adjudicates that the full protection of the Constitution should be afforded to all.”Newsom was five weeks into his first term when he told his staff to begin sanctioning same-sex marriages on Feb. 12, 2004, the day gay activists observe each year as “Freedom to Marry Day” by showing up at county clerk’s offices to make symbolic requests for marriage licenses.The first wedding, between lesbian activists Phyllis Lyon, 80, and Del Martin, 84, was performed in secret so it could be completed without court intervention. By day’s end, 87 jubilant gay couples, many with children in tow, had promised to be “spouses for life.”After four weeks and 3,955 weddings, the California Supreme Court halted the wedding march. In August, the court voided all the marriages, ruling that Newsom had overstepped his authority.San Francisco’s short-lived experiment, which preceded the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts by three months, gave Americans their first glimpse at what such unions might look like.Margot McShane, 35, and Alexandra D’Amario, 39, were the first same-sex couple to go public with their City Hall wedding, wearing jeans and brilliant smiles as they took their vows before a crowd of TV cameras. D’Amario was five months pregnant at the time. Now, the Napa couple have 6 1/2-month-old twins, and regard Feb. 12 as their wedding anniversary, even though the court vacated their marriage license.”I feel pretty smart that I married her,” McShane said. “We will definitely be celebrating.”Outside the anniversary parties, gay couples face an uncertain legal future in California and nationally.A judge in San Francisco could rule any day on lawsuits by the city and a dozen same-sex couples who are seeking the right to marry. A bill in the Legislature also would overturn the state’s one-man, one-woman marriage law.Gay marriage opponents, meanwhile, want state lawmakers to add the existing gay marriage ban to the California Constitution, where it could be undone only by the voters.”The people of California are on our side, and they are the silent majority,” said Benjamin Lopez of the Traditional Values Coalition. “You won’t see them perhaps as vocal as some of us are on the right and the left, but when it when it comes to voting privately in the ballot box I am confident they would vote overwhelmingly in favor of limiting marriage to one man and one woman.”The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has identified 17 more states, including California, at “significant risk” of passing anti-gay marriage amendments.Matt Foreman, the task force’s executive director, said Newsom did “the right and courageous thing” last year, but the setbacks have forced the movement to reassess its strategy.”I was profoundly moved by those images of people waiting to get married, and most of us thought it would forever change the way in which the public viewed this issue,” Foreman said. “But what we learned is that the public did not see it that way, and that’s what’s been a very heart-wrenching revelation.”Still, Foreman and other prominent gay rights advocates welcome Newsom’s out-front approach.Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said: “To have the mayor – straight, white, relatively privileged, with very little political capital to gain by doing so – standing up repeatedly in the face of criticism, refusing to wither and holding firm his convictions, is a very inspiring lesson.”
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