NATIONAL AFFAIRS EXCLUSIVE: Mayor Gavin Newsom on Gay Marriage

By |

I recently spoke to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom about the renewed push to outlaw gay marriage. Newsom, of course, made gay weddings a national issue by choosing to marry more than 2,000 same-sex couples at city hall in 2004.

Newsom had strong words for his fellow Democrats: Stop lying to the American people. Newsom claims, based on first hand knowledge, that the "vast majority" of congressional Dems favor gay marriage, but they lack the "moral courage" to say so.

"As long as we allow this to be dangled in front of us because of our unwillingness to say publicly what so many of us are saying privately," Newsom told me, "it will haunt the Democratic party."

Read the full interview:

Rolling Stone: Listening to the Democratic opposition to the federal anti-gay marriage amendment, the party's senators sounded more like Dixiecrats — talking about marriage as a states's rights issue — rather than Democrats, pursuing this from a civil-rights perspective.

Gavin Newsom: Where's the moral courage? It's lost. I have the luxury of saying this from San Francisco, I certainly respect what it's like saying this in parts of Kentucky or North Carolina, but also believe this issue won't go away for the Democratic party we stand up on historic principles.

We've never run the 90-yard dash on equality — ever. The history of this party is civil rights, women's rights, human rights, labor rights, gay and lesbian rights. And for us to hold up civil unions and say that separate is somehow now equal — when just a-year-and-a-half we ago celebrated the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board — is transparent to the people. They see through the Democrats.

That's why this issue was not seen by the Kerry campaign in 2004 in a positive light. Because people saw through John Kerry. They didn't believe that he was only supportive of civil unions. Because here he was, running as a Democrat on all those proud traditions where we never fell short on equality. And so — even though his position was exactly the same as Dick Cheney's — the American people questioned that. I don't think the American people believe us. And that's a big problem.

RS: What advice do you give to politicians in your party?

GN: I tell all of my fellow Democrats this is not going to go away. As long as we allow this to be dangled in front of us because of our unwillingness to say publicly what so many of us are saying privately, it will haunt the Democratic party. And it will be used as a wedge issue just as it is being dangled in front of congressional candidates in the November election.

Not every Democrat in Washington agrees with gay marriage. But I will make the case — based on some strong evidence — that an overwhelming majority do. But they just can't say it. And that is a limitation that is causing more damage than the issue. Because, again, it shows a weakness of character.

This is really one of the great final civil rights struggles, and again I say to my colleagues in the Democratic party: Why are you a Democrat if you can't stand on a fundamental construct that has always distinguished our party. That we didn't sit around. We advanced the issues of equality. We engaged the American people head on.

[photo: Lane Collins]