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The Weblog at The View from the Core - Thu. 02/19/04 08:04:17 PM
"Prominent Democrats Question S.F. Nuptials"
Democrats in Self-Destruct Mode CXCVI
A report today at the San Jose Mercury News
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For a week, the parade of gay couples lining up to marry at San Francisco City Hall has resonated as a love story, a civil-rights struggle, a morality play and a legal tussle.
On Wednesday, politics burst front and center, with debate over the hot-button issue reverberating from the White House to the U.S. Senate race in California to lobbying of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors.
President Bush, in his first public comments, condemned the city's actions, and said they are influencing his decision over whether to push for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning gay marriage. His wife, Laura Bush, on a trip to Los Angeles, called same-sex marriage "a very, very shocking issue" for some people. As of Wednesday, the city had issued more than 2,700 marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.
But the biggest surprise of the day came from U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, seeking her third term this fall and long a champion of gay rights, who publicly stated that she does not believe in changing state law to allow for the recognition of same-sex marriage.
The announcement, which came after two Republican opponents challenged her on the issue, was a blow to some of her longtime gay and lesbian supporters, and demonstrated the acute political sensitivity of same-sex marriage in an election year.
And the repercussions didn't end there.
• Democratic Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, a leader on gay-rights issues since his election as the first openly gay member of Congress, criticized San Francisco officials for poor timing, saying the backlash probably would help anti-gay-marriage forces pass a federal constitutional ban and ones in individual states, including his own state, where same-sex marriages are slated to begin in mid-May. Frank, a supporter of gay marriage, said he had warned San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom about that.
• Santa Cruz County's most liberal supervisor, Democrat Mardi Wormhoudt, has been the target of an aggressive lobbying efforts to recognize gay marriage in the county in recent days even though it's not the supervisors' decision to make. Richard Bedal, Santa Cruz County's elected registrar and tax collector, said Wednesday that wasn't going to happen. "We're going to wait to see what the courts have to say," said Bedal, a Republican who holds the non-partisan office. Wormhoudt, who supports gay marriage, said she wouldn't put the item on an agenda until discussing the political ramifications with the gay and lesbian community.
• San Francisco's Newsom fired back at detractors, declaring that the equal-protection clause of California's constitution prohibits discrimination.
Inserting a personal note, he added: "I ask the President to meet Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin and discuss with them why they simply want the same rights as a couple of 51 years that my wife and I enjoy today." Last Thursday, Lyon and Martin, a lesbian couple, received the first same-sex marriage license issued by the city.
Debate gets political
All around Wednesday, the debate was framed more in political terms than it has been since the same-sex wedding procession began in San Francisco.
"Everyone is reading the same polls. People want to be seen as pro-marriage, but not anti-gay," said Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.
Republican political consultants said Wednesday they will use the past week's events in San Francisco to demonstrate the Democratic mayor's willingness to flout laws for the sake of liberal convictions, and as they did in the Boxer campaign demonstrated they will push liberal legislators to take sides.
Democrats, meanwhile, blasted Bush's talk of a constitutional amendment and accused Republicans of "demagoging" a civil-rights issue out of fear that the scenes broadcast of smiling gay and lesbian newlyweds, many long-committed couples, will sway public opinion their way.
And Boxer found herself in the middle of the barrage. Responding to calls by GOP contenders Bill Jones and Rosario Marin to take a stance, her spokesman David Sandretti read a statement from Boxer: "The mayor has decided to test state law. My opinion is that state law is fair and appropriate because it gives equal rights to all citizens."
Sandretti added that the senator believes that the state's domestic-partnership law provides gay couples with "full rights and responsibilities of marriage" and that marriage as defined by state law should remain between a man and a woman.
Kate Kendell, whose National Lesbian Rights Group is representing Martin and Lyon in support of the city, called Boxer's words disappointing.
But Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who last Thursday introduced legislation to change state law to allow the marriage of "two persons," stood behind Boxer.
"I'm not critical of her. She's our champion. We disagree on a small item, and I hope to get her there," Leno said. "The big point is the difference between her and her Republican challengers, all of whom heartily support the president, who is attempting to amend the U.S. Constitution to codify discrimination."
But Massachusetts' Frank warned that San Francisco's actions probably will drive more mainstream politicians to support a federal ban on same-sex marriage, and noted at least two states have moved up plans to put measures on their ballots.
"If people believe that marriage in one state is going to have to be recognized in every state," he said, "we lose votes."
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