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My favorite mayor


San Francisco's mayor Gavin Newsom was on KQED radio's Forum talk show the other day. (You can listen to the audio online.) I generally try to avoid listening to Forum these days, 'cause I'm afraid I find the host kinda annoying, but I tuned in for the first few minutes of this. Mayor Newsom's comments during those few minutes inspired me all over again. Here are some excerpts:

[Regarding the diversity of his appointments to city offices:] What makes this city a special place is that remarkable diversity. People living together and advancing together across every conceivable difference. It's everything that we try to preach in this country, but we're practicing it here in San Francisco. That's why as a citizen I'm proud of this city, and as mayor I'm proud to be here....

[Later, about same-sex marriage:] We try to advance principles. A lot of people disagree about how you go about doing that, but I take back nothing, and I reflect that what we did was right, and what we did will ultimately be vindicated in the court....

I'll take my hits, but I'm proud of what we did. We put a light on discrimination, we humanized discrimination, we stood on a principle, and we ignited a debate across this country. I'm so honored [at?] those 4000 couples. There's nothing that judge or any judge could do to take away that moment in time that these couples [had] when they said I do. It was more deep and profound than anything I could have ever imagined. I'm proud of this city, I'm proud of this state, and I'm proud that we were able to advance this principle, and I hope to continue to fight this all the way to the Supreme Court, and that's the US Supreme Court.


Maybe I'm just naive enough—36, brand new in this job, just took the oath of office to bear true faith and allegiance to the [state] constitution, maybe I took those words a little too seriously—and did it. And, y'know, I didn't know what would happen after that. In hindsight, it seems obvious what happened; [but] going into it I never imagined—I thought we'd just have one or two couples married, we'd put a human face on this, and we'd advance this debate in a much different way. I never imagined 4000 couples, 46 states, 8 different countries coming together, people traveling 3 or 4 days, people standing out in the rain 24 hours. It was a magical period of time and it brought this city together in remarkable ways and to me it extended broader principles, the power of possibility, the power of people uniting around core principles, and the prospect that we can truly change the course and direction of this city.

He's a little self-congratulatory, and he overuses the word principle, and he says some kinda vague things. But I was still really pleased to hear the mayor of a major US city saying this stuff.

I came home and looked up the web page for the Office of the Mayor, which features a smiling photo of Newsom. (I keep wanting to label it "Gavin Newsom, boy mayor." In an entirely friendly and respectful way, of course, especially given that he's the same age as me.) On seeing the photo, Kam commented that she wouldn't be surprised if people were writing slash about him. "But who would he be coupled with?" she asked. "The only person I can think of is Arnold. Wait, maybe he could seduce Arnold to show him the error of his ways. . . ." If y'all slash writers need more inspiration, there's another picture of Newsom on his bio page.

(I should note that in real life, Newsom shows every indication of being straight—such as being married to a woman. But that never stopped slash writers.)


He certainly is cute. And being married to a woman is no proof of being straight.

Yup, true—I should've been clearer. I've read in a variety of places that Newsom is definitely straight (and Catholic!).

While checking to be sure I had actually read that, though, I came across some interesting anti-Newsom anti-same-sex-marriage pieces, such as Mattilda's Bay Guardian opinion piece "Marriage Hurts" ("Gay marriage is just a fake issue for straight, white, male ruling-class politicians ... to argue over") and Gay Shame's info page ("We are now faced with the spectacle of thousands of gay men and lesbians rabid with longing for any shred of acceptance from a violent, hypocritical establishment that really wants us dead").

For a somewhat more balanced piece, see John Powers's Brave Newsom World from the LA Weekly: "...it is perhaps fitting that the beautifully giddy display of social rebellion being performed by thousands of gay and lesbian couples should be the profoundly conservative act of getting married."

I caught the last few minutes of that interview and was also impressed. He spoke intelligently and with passion on so many different topics. Really, the more I hear from and about Newsom, the better I like him. He's been a wonderful surprise as SF's mayor and I'm just so proud to be able to claim him as the leader of my city.

His youth and attractiveness were actually much discussed when he ran for mayor. Only in San Francisco would the candidates' hair be an actual campaign issue.

<troll>It is perhaps also fitting that one of the largest single occasions of civil disobedience in U.S. history is met by some nominally progressive critics with the profoundly illiberal tactic of casting aspersions on other's relationship choices.</troll>

(Troll tags partly because the John Powers quote, when read in context, appears to be sincere and not a sarcastic indulgence in petty backstabbery.)

Personal disclosure:

For a long time, my partner and I were in solid agreement that we would never get married, for a variety of reasons too personal or too boring to elaborate. Then we weren't quite so sure, but didn't see the point. Then we saw how happy some friends of ours were to be able to marry during the same-sex marriage flurry last winter (here's their account), and we also started learning how legally torturous things could become for the surviving partner if one of us died. Then some other personal/boring stuff happened, and we've now been state-certified for a little more than a month.

It was interesting to watch the cultural discussion of marriage in the weeks leading up to our ceremony. A bit surprising, to me, was the opposition to gay marriage from progressive corners -- not so much the opposition itself, but the emphasis on sarcasm ("If gay-marriage proponents wanted real progress, they'd be fighting for the abolition of marriage (duh)") over explanation.

I've been trying to figure out what might be behind that disconnect -- what the core of progressive opposition to gay marriage might be, and it seems like there's an interesting difference in motivation between expanding or eliminating marriage.

The goal of eliminating marriage, it seems to me, approaches each member of society as a fundamentally independent individual. In such a view, assigning special priveleges (from immigration rights to tax shelters to the rest of the thousand-odd federal marriage-only benefits) to a pair of people solely because of an implied sexual relationship is gross discrimination against single people and creates incentives for people to stay in abusive relationships.

The goal of expanding marriage (again, in my humble opinion), recognizes that society is strengthened by interdependence. A solitary
person is more vulnerable and less flexible than a person who is partnered with others; a community can hold an individual accountable and even prevent destructive behavior in ways that law cannot. With the value of interdependence (not dependence) in mind, the question becomes not "should gay couples be allowed to marry" but "why restrict civil union between adults in any way at all?"

My sympathies tend to lie with the latter position (could you tell?), but the arguments of the former do give me significant pause. Both views lead to the state abandoning any official opinion about marriage as a religious tradition, so at least in that respect I'm not too conflicted. An ideal approach, I suppose, would support interdependence without prescribing its form and protect people as independent individuals without enforcing isolation.

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