“My name is Gavin Newsom and I helped elect George Bush,” he began, quickly adding, “I was just seeing if you were paying attention.”
Newsom has been widely criticized for issuing same-sex marriage licenses to couples in San Francisco and effectively aiding President Bush’s re-election campaign.
“We’re talking about marriage here. It is an institution of stability,” said Newsom in response to arguments that same-sex marriage can have a detrimental effect on families.
“At the end of the day it’s all about people,” he said. “If you’re going to tell ten-plus million people that they are secondary citizens…I found that fundamentally wrong.”
Newsom argued that President Bush had used same-sex marriage, as well as stem cell research and abortion, as a political “wedge” to advance his political career, and that these efforts helped him form his own opinions about marriage rights.
“None of you could have walked in City Hall and not experienced the same emotional feeling as I did,” Newsom said. “It’s so simple that two people in love should marry.”
Newsom was introduced last night by Lowell House Master Diana L. Eck, who wedded her co-Master Dorothy A. Austin last summer. Eck defended Newsom’s issuance of more than 4,000 same-sex marriage licenses by comparing it to the actions of Rosa Parks during the civil rights movement
“Today, a barrier to true justice has been removed,” Eck said.
Audience reception was characterized by generous applause and receptive laughs to Newsom’s jokes about Britney Spears, side comments on Bill O’Reilly and other “white-teethed” critics. Newsom readily admitted that part of the reason he came to speak in Massachusetts was because he felt comfortable in a state which has legally sanctioned same-sex marriage.
However, not all of those in attendance agreed with his views.
In response to a question from an audience member about why the institution of marriage should not be extended to polygamous and/or incestual relationships under the mayor’s defense of same-sex marriage, he said that he had never been able to answer that question well.
The debate was not confined to the inside of the IOP. Outside, Students for Mass Equality, a campus organization, actively recruited new members. Michael A. Feldstein ’07, who is also a Crimson editor, was among the canvassers seeking volunteers to join their cause of defeating the proposed amendment that would end marriage equality in Massachusetts.
Gregory M. Schmidt ’06, the president of the Harvard College Democrats, was also in attendance last night.
“It made me proud as a Democrat to see him defending the civil rights of gay people,” Schmidt said. “It was good to see somebody with that kind of political courage.”
In addition to student activists, Newsom attracted many concerned members of the community. Richard McCleary ’71, a Boston resident, had heard about the mayor’s speech and came to the IOP two hours before the event started to secure a good seat.
“I think Mayor Newsom has been a great voice for justice in the West Coast,” said McCleary. “You don’t stop doing the right thing because there’s a radical backlash. I think if more politicians acted on the courage of their convictions and did what they believe, I think we would have more progress.”