Inside the New Politics of Gay Marriage

Scott Lucas | June 26, 2013 | Story Politics

Just after 7 AM San Francisco time this morning, the U.S. Supreme Court handed a limited, but not total, victory to gay rights supporters. Not that anyone iside of City Hall was complaining. At the moment the news of the DOMA decision was announced, the gathering of LGBT couples, activists, and city workers broke into sustained cheering and applause. The feelings of the crowd were pretty well summarized by one speaker: "Fuck Prop 8," said Kate Kendell, Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, during her speech. The line made her an instant star in the Twittersphere. But who, besides Kendell, is up and who’s down after today’s rulings?


Gavin Newsom The former Mayor of San Francisco and current Lieutenant Governor of California has earned his share of eye-rolls. But today was clearly a celebration for him—and not just for his legacy as the first politician to open the doors to gay marriage. The ruling clears the way for him to run for higher office—Governor or Senator perhaps. From the scrum of media attention that followed Newsom out the doors of City Hall and to the plaza across the street where he held a celebratory news conference, it was clear that he was enjoying his time in the spotlight. Don't think Gavin hasn't imagined the sound of "President Newsom" in his head today. It's once again in the cards, whether you like it or not.

Dennis Herrera As City Attorney, Herrera is winning acclaim for having been an early legal opponent of Proposition 8. From a political perspective, the man who finished third in the Mayor's race last time around certainly looks to be in strong position for the future.

Kate Kendell Today was a bit of a banner day for the Executive Director of the National Center of Lesbian Rights, who blurted out to the crowd what many were thinking: "Fuck Prop. 8." (We profiled Kendell's work in October.) With this win under her belt, she could run for just about any city office that she would want. But the unfiltered brashness that makes her a powerful advocate might not serve her any favors in an elected role.

Gay Politicians When Castro Supervisor Scott Wiener took his turn at the mic, he was greeted by a small but real group of hisses and boos, undoubtedly from constituents who are still sore at him for pushing the nudity ban citywide. In many ways, victories like this allow Wiener and other gay politicians to move even further away from movement politics and to focus more on the stuff that matters to every stripe of citizen. We may be seeing a lot more of this new type of gay politico, less concerned with tearing down the patriarchy and more with fixing potholes.


The Religious Right Within moments of the ruling, both the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (which includes our own Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone) had issued statements denouncing the Court’s ruling. An LDS spokesperson said, “Many Californians will wonder if there is something fundamentally wrong when their government will not defend or protect a popular vote that reflects the views of a majority of their citizens.” The Catholic Bishops said, “Today is a tragic day for marriage and our nation[…]. The Court got it wrong.” Pope Benedict used to talk about the future Church as a "mustard seed"—smaller but more intesensly commited. Given how far out of step Cordileone is with local public opinion, even that analogy might be optimistic in these parts.

Sweeping Court Rulings We checked in with Berkeley School of Law Professor Melissa Murray, who correctly predicted how the Court would rule today. She pointed out that the Court's ruling on Proposition 8 was in many ways designed to avoid the kind of sweeping ruling—and potential backlash—that many argue was created after Roe v. Wade. "It isn't just Roe," she added. "As much as we venerate the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling today, the Court was way ahead of public opinion on that, and as a result, it was difficult to enforce in recalcitrant Southern states." In 1955, a year after Brown, the Court declined to hear a challenge (Naim vs. Naim) to Virginia's ban on inter-racial marriage because "they recognized that they didn't want to get out too far" says Murray. Thirteen years later, once public opinion and state laws had shifted, the Court struck down Virginia's ban in the Loving case. Murray sees a strong parallel between the two sets of marriage rulings, saying that the Court often acts to "consolidate a national consensus," once it has been worked out at the state level.

Hillary Clinton Bear with us for a second. She's clearly positioning herself to run for the Presidency in 2016. But expect the Democratic base to closely scrutinize why it took Hillary until this March to publically announce her support for same-sex marriage. Coupled with her initial support of the Iraq War, expect her to be vunerable to a primary challenge from the left.

Porn Stars "I find myself in a weird agreement with fundamentalist Catholics and Mormons," Conner Habib, a local writer, lecturer, and gay porn actor, told us. "They're afraid that gay marraige will erode the institution—and that's just what I want to happen." Habib hopes that gay and lesbian couples who get hitched—as well as straight ones—will still be able to "subvert" marriage, rather than simply opting in to larger cultural norms. "Almost every gay male married couple I know are in an open relationship," he says.

CNN The news network was woefully late in announcing the result. We happened to standing next to Gavin Newsom while waiting for the ruling to come down on CNN. Minutes before CNN announced the decision, the results were coming in by social media and smartphone. Just before he left to make his speech, Newsom glance down and shook his head. “We won on standing—and we are never going to watch CNN again."

Have feedback? Email us at
Email Scott Lucas
Follow us on Twitter @sanfranmag

Follow Scott Lucas on Twitter @ScottLucas86


Photography by: