Mayor Gavin NewsomThe primary responsibility of any elected official is to operate in accordance with his or her constituency. They are thus obligated to do so, an obligation that at times forces the individual to act courageously, against outside pressures, to accomplish this task. When San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom decided to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples in 2004, he did so with tremendous courage, against warnings of committing political suicide, and has subsequently ignited a modern struggle for equal rights.
Gavin Newsom felt that it was his responsibility as an elected official to order city clerks to issue the marriage licenses. After attending a State of the Union address wherein President Bush praised the Defense of Marriage Act, Newsom felt offended (Heyman). Moreover, he thought he had an obligation to defend the rights of millions of Americans against what he viewed as an attempt by the President to deny these rights (Heyman). Irritated by President Bushs pledge to preserve the sanctity of traditional marriage, Newsom studied the California constitution to ensure that his forthcoming actions would not be ruled unconstitutional. Newsom asserted that the equal-protection clause of the state constitution gave him reason to believe that Proposition 22 was discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional. Acting on this notion, Newsom finalized his decision to issue the licenses on Wednesday February 11, 2004 (Taylor).
By that Friday afternoon, in the midst of same-sex weddings, the opposition had begun. Lawyers were already in court trying to obtain an emergency decree to stop what they classified as municipal anarchy (Gordon). Other activists compared Newsoms daring actions to legalizing heroin, prostitution, polygamy, and incest (Taylor). The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops reaffirmed its support for an amendment that would ban same-sex marriages (Lattin). In addition to the copious array of objections to the same-sex marriages, Newsom himself was faced with discrimination. He received more than fourteen hundred death threats, several pastors forbade him to worship in their churches, and was continually booed while delivering public speeches. Additionally, he was not given the opportunity to address the delegates that attended the Convention in Boston, in which every other attendee was given that opportunity (Friend).
Gavin Newsoms actions had immediate effects. Numerous counties in New Mexico, Oregon, and New Jersey began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples but were eventually ordered to stop (Heyman). Additionally, both Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson welcomed Newsoms policies, and Daley even declared that he would have no problem with Cook County issuing same-sex marriage licenses (Taylor).
In his novel Profiles in Courage, John F. Kennedy illustrates certain pressures that discourage acts of political courage. Of these pressures, the desire to be re-elected and the effects upon the elected officials party are included, and that they may mean more to him than anything else (Kennedy 7). Furthermore, he affirms that this desire to be re-elected exercises a strong brake on independent courage (Kennedy 8). Gavin Newsom illustrated how politically courageous he was by acknowledging these pressures and following through without hesitation. Newsom even articulated this, stating that he is willing to sacrifice his political career over his belief that denying gay men and lesbians the right to marry is wrong and inconsistent with the values this country holds dear (Mayor Defends Same-Sex Marriages). Moreover, Newsom said, And if that means my political career ends, so be it (Mayor Defends Same-Sex Marriages), because he wanted to make it about the people (Friend). In addition, the Democratic Party did not generally agree with his policies, and they saw it as betrayal and embarrassment in an election year (Friend).
Gavin Newsom is without a doubt an exceptionally courageous politician. By allowing the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Newsom lost a substantial amount of support from his political party while severely risking his political career. Newsom sparked a national debate over gay marriage, a debate that is still taking place today. He is confident that his administrations actions were morally correct, nay necessary, and although the debate is still taking place, he feels that History will judge that what weve done is right (Heyman).
Friend, Tad. Going Places. The New Yorker 4 October 2004: 42.
Gordon, Rachel. The Battle Over Same-Sex Marriages. SF Gate: News and
Information for the San Francisco Bay Area. 15 February 2004. 29 November
Heyman, J.D. The Marrying Man. People Weekly. 29 March 2004: 93.
Kennedy, John F. Profiles in Courage. New York: Harper ; Brothers, 1956.
Lattin, Don, and others. Religious Groups on Common Ground. SF Gate: News and
Information for the San Francisco Bay Area. 14 March 2004. 13 December 2005. ;http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2004/03/14/MNGJB5KB9N1.DTL;.
Mayor Defends Same Sex Marriages. CNN.com. 22 February 2004. 13 December
Taylor, Chris. I do no, you dont! Why San Franciscos brash mayor is taking on
Schwarzenegger and Bush over gay marriage. Time. 1 March 2004: 40.