Too often at the close of the annual Christopher Street West Pride parade in West Hollywood, politicos lament that the crowd is only into the party and misses the larger point - the ongoing struggle for LGBT liberation and full equality.
Not this year. This time there were two political rock stars - San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa - whose very charismatic presence helped underscore the importance of marriage as a civil rights issue.
It also helped that good-looking Newsom is running to be California governor in 2010 and not-too-shabby Villaraigosa may be one of his rivals. They both bent over backwards, so to speak, to be friendly and jovial with each other as well as cement their longstanding good relationships with the LGBT community. Both are mindful, as well, that there has been an initial push to place an initiative to repeal Prop 8 on the 2010 ballot.
Undeniably, Newsom is a hero. People still remember his 2004 order to San Francisco's city clerks to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples applying as usual on Freedom to Marry Day. The court injunction that followed - and the subsequent lawsuits (including one filed by Gloria Allred on behalf of Robin Tyler and Diane Olson) - eventually lead to the May 15, 2008 ruling by the California Supreme Court that legalized same sex marriages - before Prop 8 voters took that right away. And no matter what the legal reasoning, people are still upset over the high court's decision to uphold the antigay initiative.
To be clear - Villaraigosa has been a public supporter of marriage equality well before Newsom came on the scene. In 2000, as Speaker of the California Assembly, he not only co-chaired the effort opposing the antigay marriage Prop 22 (the precursor to Prop 8) but he contributed $10,000 of his own money to the fight. And as one of the co-chairs of John Kerry's presidential campaign during 2004, Villaraigosa repeatedly stepped forward to strongly refute famous Democrats who said Kerry's defeat was a result of all the antigay initiatives Karl Rove helped mount around the country that year.
Interestingly, both Newsom and Villaraigosa are being overshadowed by Attorney General Jerry Brown who filed a brief late Friday agreeing with the federal lawsuit brought by famed attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies that Prop 8 must be overturned. However, Brown also asked the court not to immediately remove the ban on same sex marriages to avoid confusion and "legal limbo" until after the issue of marriage equality is decided.
At a news conference just before the CSW parade kicked off, I asked the two mayors about the Obama-DOJ legal brief upholding DOMA and if they would sign onto the Ted Olson-David Boies lawsuit to overturn Prop 8.
About DOMA, Newsom said:
"I'm not going to walk down the path of controversy by suggesting that President Obama's not going to step up and do what he said he was going to do and I have confidence he'll get there. I think it's a question of timing.
I was concerned obviously about the DOMA filing. There were a lot of commitments made on DOMA, Don't Ask, Don't Tell and hate crimes. We need to make sure that those are advanced. But again, we're just five-and-a-half, six months into an administration and so there's time.
But obviously that filing is of some concern, so we will obviously make that point in an appropriate manner. I still believe that this president will be, I think, the biggest champion and friend of the LGBT community that we've ever had. I'm confident of that, at the end of the day. But right now, we obviously look forward to seeing some more examples of that in the months and years ahead."
Villaraigosa on DOMA said:
"While I'm not a lawyer, I can tell you that I don't understand the legal reasoning in the federal brief. I'm concerned about the implications of some of the arguments that are being made by the Justice Department.
I can tell you that I do believe that President Obama is a man of his word, one who understands that this issue of civil rights is an issue that can't be limited to just some of us. It has to be a value that we support and fight for - for all of us. And the issue of marriage equality and hate crimes and discrimination are issues that transcend any one group and they really speak to our values as Americans."
About whether the mayors or their cities would sign onto the Ted Olson- David Bois lawsuit, Villaraigosa said:
"There is some concern at this point, to file a brief at the federal level where we still don't have enough momentum, enough states that have adopted marriage equality statutes. I, too, am looking to the progressive legal community fighting this issue to determine whether we weigh in or not. I certainly understand why you would want to. It would just be a question of tactics, not ultimately whether or not we agree that we need to change the federal law of the land."
"I want to learn more about it and I say it in this context: I want to make sure Teresa Stewart, one of our heroes up north - I want to make sure that we're all on the same page. So we haven't gotten down to the details of it. They haven't even organized the details of that federal lawsuit. But I want to look at the details before we decide what we're going to do."
Later, I asked San Francisco Chief Deputy City Attorney Theresa Stewart about the Obama-DOJ brief and the mayors' responses. "I'm disappointed that he doesn't live up to his promises. I hope he re-thinks [the DOMA brief] -quickly."
Stewart said that she and City Attorney Dennis Herrera have been talking about filing an amicus brief in support of the Olson-Boies lawsuit, weighing the pros and the consequences. "But if it's going forward, we want to support it."
She said she was "pleased" that the mayors made a commitment to consult with their own attorneys and LGBT legal groups such as Lambda Legal before making any decisions.
Recently Villaraigosa was featured on the cover of my magazine, Frontiers in LA posing as Equality Man for a feature on his efforts supporting marriage equality. When the CSW announcer at LA Pride mentioned that cover and complained: "If only he were gay," Villaraigosa chucked and replied: "Today, I am."
But the Newsom signs were so ubiquitous, it almost looked like CSW was endorsing him. And as he walked down Santa Monica Boulevard, his first LA Pride march - people screamed and cheered and swooned as if he was a Jonas Brother. And he responded - leaving his pretty pregnant wife and pack of supporters to dart over to the sidelines and shake hands and mirror back gratitude.
If there wasn't this little glitch called an election - with other possible contenders such as Attorney General Jerry Brown and new pro-Prop 8 GOP favorite Meg Whitman - and Villaraigosa, if he decides to run - the Gavin Newsom contingent could well have been construed as a coronation with a bunch of colorful strangers tagging along for fun.
Actually, it looked like a post-Inauguration presidential walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, only in June instead of January and Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood instead of Washington DC. Maybe Newsom was warming-up.
There was some local talent, too - LAPD Chief Bill Bratton (before he departed for the site of the Lakers game win and reaction), openly gay LA City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl and scores of other supportive electeds - including leather-attired Republican City Councilmember Dennis Zine riding his motorcycle along side newly elected LA City Attorney Carman Trutanich on his Harley with LA Councilmember Jan Perry on the back. They looked like high schoolers going to the hop, albeit a bit older.
Two of the largest contingents this year were the Gay and Straight Alliance and Bienestar, the Latino HIV/AIDS Health Services organization. They were a big hit with Latina mega-star Kate Del Casillo who is helping them launch an anti-homophobia campaign called "Celebrate Love."
There were also a number of new groups pushing for marriage equality under the umbrella of Out West. Equality California was there with Marc Solomon's first WeHo Pride. And the LA Gay & Lesbian Center, lead by CEO Lorri Jean, headed up a huge contingent that included many of the just-returned cyclists from the AIDS LifeCyle cross-state ride. AIDS Healthcare Foundation had a sizable floating muscle man to draw attention to their new "Man Up" campaign to get gay men to use condoms.
"Noah's Arc" star Doug Spearman was there, honored with the Connie Norman Award - and Chelsea Handler was the Celebrity Grand Marshall - but as pleased as the crowd was to see them, the day belonged to Newsom and Villaraigosa.
(Thanks to Greg Hernandez for help in transcribing the news conference.)