Friday, March 21, 2008

A Hero Awaits His Answer

I remember the day when I phoned my sister, Anne, just about every hour as she and her long-time partner stood in line waiting for their turn to marry. It was incredibly exciting. They kept me informed of each and every development as it occurred and about all the amazing things they were seeing. And then they were married .... for awhile ... until the wingnuts decided to get the courts to nullify approximately 4,000 marriages.

(Check out the earlier post about the way Barack Obama shunned Gavin Newson at a fundraiser Newsom organized for Obama at Obama's request.)

Gavin Newsom awaits his answer (

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom rushes into the room across from his office, apologizing for being late. He explains that he?d been walking down Market Street, talking to panhandlers about what it would take to get them off the streets. Fiery idealism like that has come to define Gavin Newsom. Although he is a bona fide policy wonk, his political passion is what captured the attention of the nation four years ago, when -- less than a month into his first term -- Newsom decided to permit same-sex couples to marry in San Francisco. As we sit down, the political fallout from that decision continues.


Newsom seems genuinely surprised when asked whether he believes the California Supreme Court's ruling might affect the presidential race. "I've been waiting for years for this case," he says, "but I didn't think of it in this context. Of course, the issue could come right back to the fore.' But, he says, that only serves to underscore the conundrum he mulled over four years ago: "When is the right time? There never is a right time. Mid-term congressional election? Not the right time -- we have a chance to take back the House. The next presidential election? Not the right time -- we have a chance to possibly win. It's never the right time. We need to get over these stale arguments. If you believe in something, do it. And do it with conviction. And if you screw up, learn from it, admit your mistakes and failures, and move forward in a more thoughtful way."


Among gay leaders, there appears to be a genuine consensus that the question of marriage equality would not be in the California courts right now, and that polling in the state would not show a dead heat between those for and against the rights of gays to marry, were it not for the political risks Newsom took, the public conversation that ensued, and the educational opportunities that unfolded. There are also few who doubt that gays will continue to hail Newsom as a hero; he has an indelible place in our history. And as someone who truly seems to believe that politicians are supposed to do what they believe in, not just what polls well, it's a position he's proud to hold. The marriages, Newsom says, are "the most glorious reflection I have in my life, outside of personal experiences with family . . . it has given me courage for everything else that I've done, and a sense of purpose beyond the issue. I know what it is to be privileged to be in a position to do something, even if people don't like it."