I have been in San Francisco this week and have had a chance to watch events unfold from the epicenter. Last Friday, I went down to City Hall to watch the jubilant couples come down the steps past the protesters, counter-protesters, police, and media. While Mayor Newsom’s authorization of gay and lesbian weddings has unfortunately prompted President Bush to call for an amendment banning gay marriages, the mayor has influenced the national debate by providing a public forum where gay and lesbian couples can step forward and publicly declare their love and commitment to each other. These couples have stepped forward and dared the President and his supporters on the Religious Right to say what it is that they are afraid of. The President has called for his amendment, but he will need to come forward with arguments justifying his prejudices in order for the amendment to go anywhere.
One of the more interesting responses to the proposed amendment has come from, of all people, Tom Delay
. Congress, apparently would prefer to leave this contentious issue to the states. (Additional comments here
I met a reporter from San Francisco’s gay press while I was at City Hall. He said that the activity over gay marriage had produced an interesting windfall for him. The conservative groups that normally never return his phone calls have now been having regular press conferences where they have to respond to his questions.
It has been interesting to see the reaction to Mayor Newsom’s initiative. Virtually all Republicans and many of the leading Democrats have questioned his actions. The initiative seems to make a lot of sense for the mayor though. He has cemented his reputation with local gays and lesbians and other progressives that were apparently lukewarm to his candidacy, and he has made a national name for himself. Howard Dean used his prominent role in the Vermont decision on civil unions to build a national constituency. It will be interesting to see where Mayor Newsom goes from here.
The President and other conservatives have been quick to argue that the issue of gay marriage has been brought forward by “activist judges.” It is the courts, though, that have been wrestling with the numerous issues arising from the withholding of marital rights from gay and lesbian couples relating to property, health care, and, in particular, child custody. The President’s No Child Left Behind policy apparently does not extend to the children in gay and lesbian households.
A critical aspect of the movement for gay and lesbian rights has been that they have sought to define and establish rights in areas where the law has been silent. The civil rights movement of the mid-20th Century was based on a response to laws and government practices limiting, inter alia
, voting rights, educational opportunities, and interracial marriage. The successive milestones of the civil rights movement were marked by the challenge to and overturning of instances of de jure
, legal segregation. The civil rights movement came up short in contesting incidents of de facto
segregation, such as the resegregation of schools due to white flight.
Up until now, the gay rights movement has had few instances of de jure
prejudice to respond to. The conservative response to gay marriage, though, has been to propose laws limiting or delineating distinct rights for gays and lesbians. If the President’s biased bay marriage amendment does not pass, conservative legislators may well provide the courts with the instances of de jure
prejudice necessary for finding that gays and lesbians warrant full civil rights protection under our existing laws.
Still this comes down to another round of slam dancing with Jesus freaks
. It certainly won’t be the last.