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Soapbox: Gavin Newsom

Former San Francisco mayor and current California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom has long been seen as a rising star in the Democratic party, but for a huge portion of the LGBTQ community in America, he’s simply one of our most loyal allies. In between shooting Current TV’s The Gavin Newsom Show, where he goes one-on-one with athletes, inventors (and the occasional politician), Newsom stepped onto Instinct’s Soapbox (expanded here for the web!) to reflect on how the push toward equality has changed since he first ordered same-sex marriages to be allowed in San Francisco back in 2004—and where we go from here.


Being part of the first same-sex marriages in 2004 really is a gift beyond imagination. I’m privileged to relive it, without exception, at least every week. I could be overseas, I could be in an airport in Missoula, Montana, but someone somewhere comes up to me and talks about that. I was actually in that airport in Missoula and a guy comes up to me and asks if I was the former mayor of San Francisco, and I was ready to get screamed and yelled at—which happens by the way. And he starts welling up with tears in his eyes and talks about how he reconnected with his son because of what happened in 2004. Those experiences, I’m not eloquent enough to put them in words, but, they’re so intense and profoundly meaningful to me that nothing else in life has ever compared. The ability to be part of having the moment where you can add a little value, or soften the edge in his case, is so wonderful. I’m just blessed and honestly pinch myself and think what an extraordinary life and how lucky I am to relive those moments all the time.

So I have extraordinary memories, but they’re not static memories. They’re not in the past.

I had two principal opponents who were very close to me but against me doing this back in 2004, one of them being my father, who is a very progressive person but came from the old Irish Catholic traditions. The intensity of having to walk through [him] at the time was very hard. Both now of course support. I just think about how many people are like my father, who just generationally the word “marriage” mattered. But now there’s recognition, and I think we’ve seen that thawing all across the country now. People are starting to understand that equality is not a 90-yard dash. Equality is providing a foundation where all rights are extended, not just some. And we can’t be selective. And for the president to finally recognize that himself, I was very proud of him. I always said, for the grace of God, never would I want to be in his position where I couldn’t defend a fundamental principle that I’m defending for every other community but not the gay community. I was proud of him, but relieved for him
as well!

And I was surprised on the timing, being before the election. I was actually on Meet The Press a week after the president made the statement he made and I sort of grilled [host] David Gregory on whether or not the vice president was given that question in advance. And he swears it was never on the discussion. It was an organic conversation and a seemingly organic response. That’s a pretty remarkable thing.

Words matter. We saw, as an example, the overwhelming impact it had in the African-American community; just the president’s words. So for those that have been a little critical saying, “Well that’s great, but saying something isn’t doing something”: Well, that’s correct. But it’s also not insignificant because for a sitting president—not an ex-president—to say those words, I never thought I’d see that in my lifetime. I kid you not.

Look at the history of interracial marriage: 1948-1967 for the first California Supreme Court decisions. It’s a pretty remarkable thing to see how far we’ve come now. Remember, in 2004 the hot debate was civil unions, and there was hardly consensus within the Democratic party on that. So just think about that and how far we’ve come since ’04.

For me, the principal of marriage is so human and so critical. It’s a part of human development to know that your life has complete equality and meaning and that your self-identification and actualization is as important as anyone else’s. So yes, I think it’s a pretty remarkable thing we’ve come as far as we have, but my gosh, look at all these states where we’ve taken one step forward and two steps back.

But when the president uttered those words, there was no doubt we, as a party, had to step up and support our president. But remember, before he uttered those words, we were very lucky that we have a lot of good, progressive leaders who have been very out front, many wonderful leaders in advancing the rights of the LGBTQ community. But it is sorta funny when I think, my gosh, in ’04 I was persona non grata. And then in ’08, I was still toxic. But here we are in 2012, and I feel like I’m mainstream now!

The show [The Gavin Newsom Show] has been a lot of fun and a great educational opportunity because I’m able to reach out and interview a lot of people that I’ve long admired. And we get to have conversations about the future, which is fundamentally what the show is about. Not about who’s to blame, but what to do. It’s a show that asks and tries to answer, to me, the most important question we all need to ask and answer everyday: What world are we living in?

I did a radio show as mayor, and this is sort of an extension of that. There are always the folks you really want to get on, like I really want to have President Clinton on, and my dream guest would be Nelson Mandela. I can’t break confidence, but we’ve got six or seven really significant folks who will be on later in the year, so we’ve been really lucky. The only rejection actually came from a good friend of mine, who I won’t mention, but is a major, major get of a major tech company. But because we’re close friends they absolutely rejected me! They said they didn’t want to talk to the press and now they consider me press! You can guess who that might be...

Moderated by Jeff Katz; art by Dave Arkle. Check out The Gavin Newsom Show, Fridays on Current TV.