By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
By Joe Eskenazi
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
While Democrats may think that Newsom's stand marks him as a future leader, conservatives from radio talker Rush Limbaugh to members of Congress have pounded him like a punching bag that has a Clinton mask attached to it. U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth, an Arizona Republican, called the mayor a "renegade," and Gary Bauer, president of American Values, a faith-based group whose self-described aims include opposing the "homosexual rights movement," has lambasted Newsom as "out of control." There's also been criticism closer to home. San Francisco Archbishop William J. Levada led a protest march to express his displeasure with the mayor's action, even hinting that Newsom, who is Roman Catholic, might not be allowed to partake of the sacrament for his role in condoning gay marriage. "If that were to happen, I know it would hurt Gavin very deeply," says a Newsom confidant who spoke on condition of anonymity, "but it wouldn't deter him from doing what he believes is right."
Having barely warmed his seat in Room 200 at City Hall, the mayor has thus far studiously avoided the appearance of looking beyond his current post, just as he stayed largely in the background while 4,037 gay weddings were performed downstairs from his office during four weeks that started in mid-February and ended when the state Supreme Court ordered a halt to the unions. Aides insist that Newsom is singularly focused on his new job. "I have had scores of conversations with the mayor since he was inaugurated, and he's not thinking about his political future," adviser Eric Jaye says. "He's totally focused on what he has set out to do as mayor."
A lot of other people are focused on what he will do afterward.
Newsom's political fortunes will probably depend on what happens, legally, with gay marriage, at least in the short run. The issue immediately before the state's high court is whether the mayor exceeded his authority by ignoring state laws that define marriage as limited to heterosexual couples. On that question, legal experts expect Newsom likely will lose.
But the city has filed a lawsuit that will wend its way through the lower courts and advance the argument that the mayor says is the only one that really matters: the contention that denying marital rights to same-sex couples is discriminatory and violates the equal-rights protections of both the state and U.S. constitutions. Whatever else happens during Newsom's term as mayor, the lawsuit, which could take many months to unfold, assures that his time in the limelight has only begun.
Still, it is anybody's guess as to how the gay marriage issue will play out in Newsom's political future, assuming he has ambitions beyond the Mayor's Office.
On the surface, some political experts say, Newsom appears not to have done himself a favor if he is thinking about statewide office, because surveys, including a recent Los Angeles Times poll, show that roughly 56 percent of Californians are opposed to same-sex marriage (although a thin majority now favor civil unions for homosexuals). But those same surveys also reveal that the split runs along generational lines, with greater acceptance of gay marriage among voters under 50. Even discounting a future change in attitudes in favor of gay marriage, as older voters die younger voters who are more accepting of such unions inevitably will come to make up a greater portion of the electorate. As this happens, Newsom's bold move could actually end up as a boon to his political career, other experts say.
"It's of course too early to tell, but one scenario is that if [Newsom] doesn't fall, and acceptance of gay marriage grows, he could come to be widely perceived as a civil rights leader, a man ahead of his time," says Binder, the pollster. "A different scenario, at least for the short term, is that the courts could rule against gay marriage, Republicans use it to galvanize conservative voters and put Democrats on the hot seat, and he looks more like someone who made a tactical blunder."
The latter concern was apparently expressed by the Bay Area Democratic heavyweights who make up the mayor's kitchen cabinet, including Feinstein and U.S. Rep. and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who both, the mayor has acknowledged, cautioned him against issuing the marriage licenses when he called to inform them in advance of his decision.
Ironically, it was while attending the State of the Union address in January as Pelosi's guest that, Newsom has said, he began thinking about issuing the licenses, taking umbrage at President Bush's politicization of the gay marriage issue by proclaiming a need to preserve the institution of marriage between men and women.
An aide to Pelosi dismisses the notion that the mayor's decision to spurn the advice of the minority leader and other party elders has ruffled feathers. "She certainly supports what Mayor Newsom did in issuing the marriage licenses. Her concern was with its potential for inflaming supporters of the constitutional amendment [against gay marriage]," says Brendan Daly, the aide.
And actually, it seems, Newsom didn't call the party leaders seeking permission, but as a courtesy. "That is pretty much my impression, that his mind was made up," says financier Warren Hellman, a recipient of one of the phone calls. Despite all the energy spent on the gay marriage issue, Hellman sings Newsom's praises for "hitting the ground running" during his first months in office and insists that the issue "hasn't overshadowed the solid work he's doing" as mayor.