Mayor cemented support of his LGBT constituents by ordering city clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom will be keynote speaker for the 2009 Black Tie Dinner, dinner officials have announced.
Newsom became a hero for many in the LGBT community in 2004 when he directed the San Francisco city/county clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, even though the California Supreme Court ruled a few months later that the mayor had no authority to contradict state law limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples and invalidated the 4,000-plus same-sex marriages that had been licensed in San Francisco.
The dinner is set for Oct. 3 at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel, with 19 local organizations and the Human Rights Campaign designated as beneficiaries.
Special guests announced earlier this year are Judy Shepard, mother of hate murder victim Matthew Shepard, who will receive the Elizabeth Birch Award, and singer/activist Cyndi Lauper, who will receive the Black Tie Dinner Media Award. Local activist Steve Atkinson will receive the Raymond Kuchling Humanitarian Award.
Black Tie co-chair Laurie Foley praised Newsom for "his leadership in standing up to protect the marriage equality of all his constituents" and for "showing just how much we can accomplish when we embrace the future and start making bold policy changes."
Calling San Francisco "one of the most diverse cities in the world," Ron Guillard, Foley’s co-chair, said Newsom works to "celebrate this diversity and harness the city’s potential day after day."
"While the march to equality for GLBT Americans has suffered setbacks, enormous steps forward have also been accomplished, thanks to friends and advocates like Mayor Newsom," Guillard said.
When he was first elected in 2004, Newsom became the city’s youngest mayor in more than 100 years. He was re-elected in 2007 with nearly 74 percent of the vote.
Early in his first term as mayor, Newsom began questioning California’s Proposition 22, approved by voters in 2000 and defining marriage as a contract between one man and one woman, saying that the law violated the state Constitution’s equal protection guarantee. He gave the order for San Francisco City Hall to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on his 36th day in office, which coincided with local activists’ annual "freedom to marry" rally.
Newsom then presided over the city’s first legal same-sex marriage, between iconic lesbian activist couple Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon on Feb. 12, setting off a rush on City Hall by same-sex couples anxious to legalize their relationships.
The courts were closed that day, and the following day began a three-day weekend.
While conservative religious groups were busy petitioning courts to stop the weddings — a request put on hold by two city judges until the next day the courts were open for business — Newsom kept City Hall open around the clock through the weekend to meet the demand for same-sex marriage licenses.
By Feb. 16, 2,340 same-sex weddings had already taken place, including those of Newsom’s chief of staff and his policy director, at which the mayor officiated.
But the backlash was already in full swing, too. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger criticized Newsom for overstepping his bounds, and then-President George W. Bush was calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriages nationwide.
Newsom then stepped up to accuse the president of trying to "divide this country in order to advance his political career by messing with the Constitution."
"I can’t believe people of good conscience, from any ideological perspective, can honestly say that the Constitution should be used to take rights away from people when the Constitution was conceived to advance the rights of people in this country."
While even some of his supporters have suggested that Newsom hurt his future political prospects with such outspoken support of same-sex marriage, Newsom has said he was just putting his city at the forefront of progress.
"We will look back in 15 to 30 years in disbelief that we were ever having this kind of debate," he once told The Advocate. "Of that, I am absolutely certain."
The Black Tie Dinner has distributed nearly $13 million to the Human Rights Campaign and a variety of local beneficiaries in its 27-year history. That total includes the $1.19 million divided between HRC and 18 local organizations in 2008.
This year’s dinner is presented by Game Stop, and will include a raffle for a 2010 Mercedes Benz GLK 350 underwritten by Park Place Motorcars Bedford and Park Place Motorcars Dallas.
Raffle tickets are $100 each, with a limited number available from representatives of the local beneficiary organizations, from DFW Federal Club members, from HRC Governing and Steering Committee members and from members of the Black Tie Dinner board of directors and advisory board.
For more information, call 972-733-9200 ext. 1 or go online to BlackTie.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 31, 2009.