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Mayor defends same-sex marriages

San Francisco will resume issuing licenses Monday

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom:
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom: "I do not believe it's appropriate for me ... to discriminate against people."

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SAN FRANCISCO, California (CNN) -- San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said Sunday he is willing to sacrifice his political career over his belief that denying gay men and lesbians the right to marry "is wrong and inconsistent with the values this country holds dear."

"I think we're on firm legal footing and legal grounds, and certainly I believe very strongly and passionately we're on the right moral ground," Newsom said on CNN's "Late Edition."

Newsom unleashed a political and legal tempest February 12 when he ordered the city clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Nearly 3,200 same-sex couples have gotten licenses in a nine-day frenzy that included thousands of family, friends and soon-to-be betrothed couples ringing City Hall, sometimes for days.

Newsom halted the practice Friday but will allow the clerk to resume issuing licenses Monday morning by appointment only.

"I will not abdicate and step back and say what we were doing 10, 15 days ago -- before this action -- is appropriate," Newsom said. "I do not believe it's appropriate for me, as mayor of San Francisco, to discriminate against people.

"And if that means my political career ends, so be it."

A judge denied a request by conservative groups Friday to issue a temporary restraining order against the city, ruling the groups had failed to prove the actions caused irreparable harm. It was the second time last week that an injunction on a lawsuit was denied. (Full story)

The city filed its own lawsuit Thursday, charging a state law that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman violates the California Constitution. (Full story)

The two suits against the city and the city's suit against the state have been combined and are scheduled for trial next month.

Newsom said he believes that the equal-protection clauses of the state's constitution trump the state law.

"I took an oath of office to bear truth, faith and allegiance to the constitution of the state of California, and there is nothing in that constitution that says that I have the right to discriminate against people on any basis," he said. "And I simply won't do that."

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger urged Newsom to obey the law.

"I've talked to the mayor," Schwarzenegger said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "He's a reasonable guy, he's a terrific mayor, but we just disagree on that particular thing."

Schwarzenegger said Friday he had asked Attorney General Bill Lockyer "to resolve the issues underlying San Francisco's lawsuit against the state."

Schwarzenegger told NBC that though he was "very much against" same-sex marriage, he believes "very strongly in domestic partnership rights."

Newsom said that such provisions, which would provide the same benefits to same-sex couples that marriage provides to male-female couples, amount to a "separate-but-unequal status."

Some opponents have argued that allowing same-sex marriage would lead to a lessening of taboos against illegal drug use, prostitution, polygamy and incest.

Newsom dismissed that argument as "stale rhetoric. Divisive rhetoric. Absurd."

"That's exactly the same kind of rhetoric that was used against blacks marrying whites in the 1960s," he said.

"It's the same kind of rhetoric used when they made comments about Catholics being able to marry Protestants at the turn of the century.

"If people had the opportunity, as I have, to witness these kinds of bonds, to witness these kinds of unions, to see life and marriage affirmed, to see children weeping because finally their parents have the same kind of rights that are extended to my relationship with my wife -- it is real, it's tangible now," he said.

Newsom, 36, and Kimberly Guilfoyle, a CNN legal contributor and San Francisco assistant district attorney on leave, were married in 2001.

Newsom bristled at the suggestion by Democratic U.S. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who is gay, that San Francisco's action was simply a "symbolic point" that diverted attention from the real struggle for gay rights.

"I have great respect for Barney Frank," the mayor said. "I don't think it's symbolic to Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, a relationship of five decades. I think it's very significant for them."

Lyon and Martin, who in 1955 founded the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian organization in the country, were the first same-sex couple to be married in San Francisco.

The mayor also rejected the idea from some supporters of gay rights that the San Francisco controversy was giving Republicans fodder for the 2004 presidential campaign.

Newsom said President Bush made the subject an issue by saying in his State of the Union address that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

"We're reacting to the president's decision to use this as a wedge issue to divide people. I think what he's doing is wrong. It's hurtful," Newsom said.

The mayor also said that those gays and lesbians who flocked to San Francisco's City Hall for a marriage license understand that their battle is not over.

"I frankly think politicians have been toying with their emotions for decades by abdicating responsibility, by saying one thing privately and saying another publicly, by ... waiting for the next state to do something," he said. "You've got to stand up on principle."

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