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Inside Politics

San Francisco mayor says 'I do' to same-sex marriages

Popular move in liberal city

By Bill Schneider
CNN Political Unit

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom stands between newlyweds, Cissie Bonini, left, and Lora Pertle, at San Francisco City Hall on February 13.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In Massachusetts, unelected judges ordered the state to recognize same-sex marriages. In San Francisco, California, the newly elected mayor did it.

That's very different. In fact, it's the political Play of the Week.

More than 3,000 same-sex couples, married in San Francisco this week. How did this happen?

It all started in January when newly elected San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom attended President Bush's State of the Union speech. And Newsom listened as Bush declared: "Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage."

What Newsom heard was discrimination.

"I do not have the benefit or privilege to discriminate against people. And it's something I felt, take seriously, and we acted accordingly," Newsom said on Tuesday.

With that, Newsom ordered the city and county of San Francisco to start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

"Was it a smart political move in terms of San Francisco? You better believe it," proclaimed San Francisco Chronicle columnist Phil Matier.

At a stroke, Newsom -- elected by a narrow margin in December -- became a hero to the city's large and powerful gay community. And his cause became the target of criticism by Bush.

"I'm watching very carefully," Bush said recently. "But I'm troubled by what I've seen."

How big a problem can that be for Newsom in a city where Bush got 16 percent of the vote in 2000?

But what if Newsom has political plans beyond San Francisco?

"I don't think he's going to be invited to speak at the Democratic National Convention," said Matier.

The 36-year-old mayor is looking to the future. Polls show that younger Americans are much more inclined to favor same-sex marriage. It's like their civil rights issue.

"Imagine, people were saying in 1966 the same things they are saying now about blacks and whites getting married. That is my lifetime. And that is just so absurd as to be literally unbelievable," said Newsom.

And in the meantime?

"Let's face it," said Matier. "San Francisco has been put on this planet for one reason, and that is to give the rest of the country something to talk about. And once again, we haven't let you down."

Well, for another reason, too -- for the political Play of the Week.

Gays are an increasingly important power bloc in cities all over the country.

This week, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley said he had "no problem'' with issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Cook County, Illinois.

Bet you didn't know Mayor Daley was a hip, cutting-edge guy.

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