Two weeks ago, on Valentine’s Day weekend, I was fortunate enough to be able to act as a witness for many of the same-sex weddings that took place in San Francisco City Hall. I watched as couple after couple exchanged rings and said “I Do” as tears ran down their faces. Many of the couples had already been through sickness and health and richer and poorer and took their wedding vows very seriously.
The marriage licenses being granted to gay and lesbian couples in San Francisco were made possible by one man — a straight man — who believes same-sex couples deserve the same rights he and his wife enjoy. A gay organization didn’t lobby the newly-elected mayor to open the process. He didn’t decide to do it because he saw gay pride march. Nor did he do it because he thought it was a good political move.
Rather, Mayor Gavin Newsom (D) took the bold step to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples because he attended President Bush’s State of the Union speech in January and was moved the president’s anti-gay statements. So moved, in fact, that he immediately looked into what could be done to issue marriage licenses to gays and lesbians, state law be damned.
This one courageous step made it possible for more than 3,000 same-sex couples, at this writing, to be legally married. His move has defied a California state law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman and has escaped three attempts at an injunction to stop the ceremonies. Bush has said he is “troubled” by the marriages and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has demanded an end to them. Typically gay-friendly U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D) and Diane Feinstein (D), both from California, have said it is wrong to defy state law. Even openly gay U.S. Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has said the timing wasn’t right.
California refused to record the marriages because San Francisco had changed the wording in the state’s certificates to be gender neutral. Newsom and the city of San Francisco bit back by filing a lawsuit against the state that called California’s prohibition against same-sex marriages a violation of the state’s constitution.
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (D) has come out in support of Newsom, declaring that he would have no problem giving marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Sandoval County in New Mexico went one step further and started issuing marriage licenses to gays and lesbians Friday, but was quickly stopped by that state’s attorney general.
What I witnessed in San Francisco that weekend was more than 800 couples who didn’t care what others thought of their marriage or that what they were doing wasn’t “the right time” politically. As Newsom has said, the time will never be right in some people’s eyes. Despite what Democrats and others may say, the timing was perfect. It is never the right time to discriminate.