Gavin Newsom's First Ad in California Governor's Race Highlights Marriage Equality

Newsom Martin Lyon

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, now running for governor, has released his first campaign ad, and it highlights the momentous time in February 2004 when, as mayor of San Francisco, he began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The ad, posted on Newsom’s Facebook page Monday, shows him saying, “Today, we can confidently say, is the first day in the state of California that we are providing marriage equally and fairly to everyone.” A voice-over calls Newsom “the first mayor to recognize the right to marry the person you love,” and the ad features several same-sex couples, including LGBT rights pioneers Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. They were married February 12, 2004, by San Francisco City Assessor Mabel Tang.

After a month, the California Supreme Court ordered the city to cease issuing licenses to same-sex couples, ending San Francisco’s “Winter of Love.” A judge declared the marriages void in August 2004, leading to a lawsuit by the city and several couples that resulted in a state Supreme Court ruling for marriage equality in 2008. Lyon and Martin married again that year, with Newsom officiating. Marriage equality had one more hurdle to jump in California, as voters in November 2008 passed Proposition 8, amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage and nullifying the court ruling, but federal courts eventually struck down Prop. 8, and as of 2013, California had marriage equality for good.

Newsom’s fellow Democrats had mixed feelings about his decision to issue the licenses. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a former San Francisco mayor, said in November 2004 that Newsom’s action helped bring out the conservative vote in that month’s election for anti-marriage equality ballot measures in several states and for President George W. Bush over Democratic challenger John Kerry. There was also a backlash to Massachusetts becoming the first state to legalize same-sex marriage.

But Newsom energized equality supporters as well, Harvard Law School Professor Michael Klarman recently told The Mercury News of San Jose, Calif. “The fact that you actually had weddings in San Francisco was incredibly inspiring for a lot of people and activists” and gave them an opportunity to talk about the issue and change opponents’ minds. “Newsom was putting himself on the wrong side of the law, but it was the right side of history,” Klarman added.

Newsom’s ad also notes his efforts as mayor to bring health insurance to all San Franciscans and his support of gun control. It will play on television this spring, campaign staffers told the San Francisco Chronicle. Republican John Cox is the only other candidate to have released an ad so far.

Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, both Democrats, are the top contenders for the gubernatorial nomination, with most polls showing them virtually tied and far ahead of both Democratic and Republican rivals. In California, the top two vote-getters in the June primary, regardless of party, advance to the November general election. Gov. Jerry Brown is prevented by term limits from seeking reelection.

Watch Newsom’s ad below.

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