Breaking weeks of silence on the gay marriage issue, which has dominated the headlines in her hometown of San Francisco for nearly a month, U.S. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi says she believes gay couples have the right to marry and that she approves of Mayor Gavin Newsom's decision to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
In a televised interview on Fox News on Wednesday, Pelosi--who has voiced strong opposition to a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage while steering clear of endorsing Newsom's action--was pressed by host Neil Cavuto to clarify her position.
"Can same-sex couples marry?" Cavuto asked.
"Yes," Pelosi responded.
"So what the mayor of San Francisco is doing, you would approve of it?" Cavuto asked.
"Yes," Pelosi said.
The gay marriage question has posed a vexing political dilemma for Pelosi since mid February, when Newsom decided to buck state law and allow gays and lesbians to wed. While considered a strong advocate of gay rights, Pelosi in numerous interviews has refused to publicly support same-sex marriage until now.
At a press conference in Washington, D.C., on February 26, for example, Pelosi focused on the legal questions surrounding gay marriage when asked whether she supported Newsom's action. "Within the state, Mayor Newsom has gone down a path which will be reviewed in court, and that decision will be by the court as to what equity will prevail in the state constitution," Pelosi said.
Aides said that while Pelosi does support the rights of gay couples to marry, they feared her full endorsement of such unions could endanger Democratic congressional candidates in districts where anti-gay marriage sentiment runs high. As House minority leader, Pelosi campaigns across the country for Democratic candidates and is a highly visible spokeswoman for the party.
Gay rights leaders praised Pelosi's comments, saying they reflect the views of her San Francisco constituents--a majority of whom support same-sex marriage, polls show. "The most powerful Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives has just come out for full marriage equality," said Dave Noble, executive director for the National Stonewall Democrats. "In contrast, the most powerful Republican, Tom DeLay, is attempting to use the issue of marriage to tear Americans apart. The difference in leadership, and between our two parties, is strikingly clear."
But Winnie Stachelberg, political director for the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, said that blocking the proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage remains the top goal for activists, rather than persuading elected officials to endorse legalizing such unions. "There are plenty of people who do not support gay marriage but oppose amending the constitution; you can actually hold both positions," Stachelberg said. "I agree with that priority, which is also the priority of Congresswoman Pelosi and other Democratic leaders."