San Francisco has been there from day one
By Brian Leubitz
Back in 2004, Gavin Newsom was not a popular dude in Democratic circles. Well, scratch that, he was an enormously popular dude in almost all circles in San Francisco, with approval ratings over 80%. But, take a few steps out of the SF bubble, and Democrats were seething over what many saw as the reason for John Kerry’s loss in 2004. From the New York Times in 2004:
Some in the party were suggesting even before the election that Mr. Newsom had played into President Bush’s game plan by inviting a showdown on the divisive same-sex-marriage issue.
Most of the talk has been behind closed doors. But when Senator Dianne Feinstein, a fellow Democrat and Newsom supporter, answered a question about the subject at a news conference outside her San Francisco home on Wednesday, the prickly discussion spilled into the open.
“I believe it did energize a very conservative vote,” Ms. Feinstein said of the same-sex marriages here. “I think it gave them a position to rally around. I’m not casting a value judgment. I’m just saying I do believe that’s what happened.”(NYT)
My oh my, have times changed. John Kerry had more than just one reason for his loss in 2004, but looking back, Gavin Newsom just looks like a leader who took a step that, while perhaps one step ahead of the institutional leadership of his party, was just leading where the country was already heading. To this day, Newsom’s marriage activism has given him credibility with the LGBT community, as well as the general Democratic base. It made him a national name, even if it made him a bit unpopular with some big names at the time.
But through all that, San Francisco’s work for marriage equality was about more than just the ceremonies at our beautiful City Hall. The City also directly took on the injustice in court. And for the better part of a decade, the City Attorney and his staff have been in on every legal case about California’s marriage inequality.
Nine years ago, city officials here sued to strike down a state ban on same-sex marriage. It was the first government challenge to such a law, and it set in motion a legal chain reaction that gave rise to a momentous Supreme Court case to be argued next Tuesday. …
“We’re defense lawyers,” Dennis J. Herrera, the city attorney, said in his office in San Francisco’s palatial City Hall. “We defend laws that are on the books. And we got a lot of heat at the time for stepping out of that traditional defense role.”
In the years that followed, Mr. Herrera’s office – which now includes five former Supreme Court law clerks, more than some major law firms – has been involved in every phase of the legal war over same-sex marriage in California.
Since that time, the California Attorneys General, Brown and Harris, have followed the City’s lead in calling for the reversal of Prop 8. And President Obama’s “evolution” on marriage equality has recently extended to the Solicitor General filing a brief with the Supreme Court against Prop 8. Would that have happened without the San Francisco leadership? Maybe, but SF gave the rest of the nation a kick in the pants and the motivation for the rapid change on the question of marriage equality that we are at now.
In the most recent polls, support for marriage equality hit 58%. And Republican elected leaders are jumping as far away as possible from NOM’s sinking ship. Apparently with all of the GOP introspection these days, that is supposed to make them hip, or cutting-edge or something.
But real leadership involves real risks. San Francisco’s leaders took those risks from Day one, and have been there ever since.