Prop. 8: Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom avoids ‘vindication’ as he smiles

Reaction to Supreme Court rulings
California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom looks on during a rally after hearing results from the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on gay marriage at San Francisco City Hall.
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom doesn’t like to use the word “vindication,” he told a crowd of reporters Wednesday. It’s the kind of term that can get an elected official in trouble.

However -- and this is a great big however -- he sure was smiling Wednesday in the dramatic rotunda of big-hearted San Francisco’s City Hall. This is where his political career started. This is where he was a young, ambitious mayor.

This is where he decreed in 2004 that gays and lesbians should be able to marry and would be married. This is where he took the slings and arrows of public opinion that turned rapidly against him.

“I don’t want to wax on about this, but we had prepared for a recall,” he said of the reaction after he directed city officials to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. “We had prepared to be arrested. We had pundits out there who were absolutely convinced that would happen, people I respected.


“We had the governor at the time, Arnold Schwarzenegger, going on ‘Meet the Press,’ talking about riots in the street and chaos, which was remarkable,” he continued. “It was a difficult time.”

But 2004 -- when some in his own party said his actions had even hurt then-Sen. John Kerry’s campaign to unseat President Bush -- wasn’t the worst, he said. It was the subsequent years, “where you’re waiting for the cavalry and you’re waiting for all that national support and it never necessarily materialized.”

The tide began to shift in 2010 or 2011, he said, and by May 2012, President Obama announced his support of same-sex marriage, after a little push from Vice President Joe Biden, who announced his own support first.

“And here we are, with the majority of Americans supporting marriage equality -- and the overwhelming majority of people 30 and younger,” he said after the San Francisco celebration of the Supreme Court’s Proposition 8 decision. “It’s no longer ideological Democrat/Republican. It transcends. And it gives you real hope about the trajectory in the future.”


An emotional Newsom helped Mayor Ed Lee escort widow Phyllis Lyon down the City Hall steps early Wednesday morning before greeting a crowd of jubilant spectators. Lyon and her life partner, Del Martin, were the first couple to marry in San Francisco in 2004, after Newsom’s pronouncement.

The California Supreme Court halted those San Francisco weddings four weeks later, but not before 4,037 couples from eight countries and 46 states had been wed here. When that decision was overturned in 2008, Lyon and Martin were the first couple to wed legally here again. Martin died shortly after that second set of nuptials.

Then Proposition 8 passed, banning marriages unless they were between a man and a woman. And now, Proposition 8 has been tossed out after a long legal battle. The Supreme Court ruled that its proponents did not have standing to defend it.

And the next steps?

“Presumably there’s going to be some litigation,” Newsom said. “I imagine the proponents are going to make a case that the standing decision should be appealed. Rare if ever the Supreme Court accepts that. It needs to go through a process.”

Newsom said he figured same-sex weddings would again take place in California by the end of July. But he also said the decision on standing “is a profound decision by this court.”

The proponents of Proposition 8 defended the measure all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court because California’s governor and attorney general refused to. But what would we all think, Newsom said, if “the shoe were on the other foot?”

“The fact that they raised standing creates some subsequent precedent questions and I think some legitimate questions on all sides about the power of elected officials to in essence trump and deny the will of the voters,” he said.


He said he was “very happy with the decision,” but “imagine you had overwhelming support for marriage equality and you had a governor and attorney general who didn’t support it and refused to defend litigation.

“And so it’s an interesting question for all of you as pundits, not for me, to address. I’m pleased and I’m proud. But I didn’t expect standing. I expected they’d punt and simply dismiss


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