The mayors of Los Angeles and San Francisco joined gay rights groups Sunday in raising concerns about the Obama administration’s defense of a federal law restricting same-sex marriage.
“I think it’s a big mistake,” San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said shortly before he and his Los Angeles counterpart, Antonio Villaraigosa, kicked off the annual L.A. Pride parade in West Hollywood.
The mayors, potential rivals in next year’s Democratic primary for governor, were each careful to avoid direct criticism of President Obama.
But their mutual disapproval of a Justice Department brief filed Thursday in support of the Defense of Marriage Act comes amid growing discontent with Obama among gay rights groups.
The battle over same-sex marriage added a serious note to the West Hollywood celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village that launched the modern gay rights movement.
“I’m concerned about some of the arguments being made by the Justice Department,” Villaraigosa told a cluster of news crews on Santa Monica Boulevard as motorcyclists in the “Dykes on Bikes” group revved their engines for the parade’s start.
In his campaign for the White House, Obama pledged to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which President Clinton signed into law during his 1996 reelection campaign. The law bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and enables states to refuse to recognize such marriages performed in other states.
The Justice Department brief, filed in opposition to a federal lawsuit arguing that the law is unconstitutional, says the act “reflects a cautiously limited response to society’s still-evolving understanding of the institution of marriage.”
It was filed by Assistant Atty. Gen. Tony West, who was a San Francisco fundraiser for Obama, and two other Justice Department lawyers.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, called the administration’s defense of the law unacceptable.
The Defense of Marriage Act “is and has always been an immoral attack on same-sex couples, our families and our fundamental humanity,” Carey said.
Other groups denouncing the brief included the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union.
White House spokesman Shin Inouye said the Justice Department, in submitting the brief, was following its normal practice of defending a law on the books in court.
“The president has said he wants to see a legislative repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act because it prevents [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] couples from being granted equal rights and benefits,” Inouye said.
“However, until Congress passes legislation repealing the law, the administration will continue to defend the statute when it is challenged in the justice system.”
Obama, he said, “remains fully committed” to his proposals on gay rights.
Gay rights groups have called on Obama to act more quickly on the major ones, including abandonment of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that bars gays in the armed forces from disclosing their sexual orientation.
Rodney Scott, president of Christopher Street West, the parade’s chief sponsor, said he was “deeply saddened” that Obama’s administration was defending the marriage law.
“That’s not the president I voted for,” he said as thousands of people lining Santa Monica Boulevard cheered the procession of marchers and floats.
Bill Rosendahl, a gay member of the Los Angeles City Council and early Obama supporter, was equally blunt.
“I’m very upset with him on everything he’s done regarding us so far,” he said.
Among those vowing to fight for the repeal of Proposition 8, the November ballot measure that barred same-sex marriage in California, were Villaraigosa and Newsom.
“We’re going to do everything we can,” Villaraigosa said, “to put this issue back on the ballot.”