SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Perhaps more than any other politician, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom understands the political risk President Barack Obama took Wednesday when he announced that he supports same-sex marriages.
It was only eight years ago, after all, that Newsom became something of a Democratic Party pariah and a fall guy for President George Bush's reelection because of his own endorsement of gay marriage.
As the new mayor of San Francisco in 2004, he directed city offices to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, a month-long exercise in civil disobedience that carried images of two men and two women exchanging vows into American living rooms for the first time.
But if Newsom's experience is any guide, Obama also stands to reap some rewards for his historic stand, the lieutenant governor and gay political leaders in California said.
Among the benefits are loyalty from many Hollywood donors and gay, lesbian and young voters — constituents who are now likely to support Obama's reelection bid with renewed enthusiasm.
"I have a sense of optimism and gratitude and personal gratification that he's willing to put his entire political career on the line in this way," Newsom said. "Overwhelmingly those who have the courage to stand up on this issue have survived."
Gay marriages remain illegal in California while the fate of Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment that outlawed same-sex unions in 2008, remains tied up in the courts. The most recent Field Poll of registered voters, published in February, found that 59 percent endorse gay marriage rights. When Proposition 8 passed in November 2008, the figure stood at 49 percent.
Fred Karger, a gay Southern California resident who is running as a Republican candidate for president this year and will appear on the June 5 GOP primary ballot with Mitt Romney, half-jokingly said in a message to his supporters Wednesday that, "It's nice to have another presidential candidate on board for full equality."
On a more serious note, Karger said in an interview that Obama's evolution would disarm gay marriage opponents of a powerful rhetorical weapon. In 2008, Proposition 8's backers used a snippet of Obama explaining his opposition to same-sex marriage rights in a robo-call to California voters, and have continued citing the president's now-relinquished view to maintain they speak for the mainstream.
"Now, Republicans and Democrats cannot use that line," Karger said.
Obama is scheduled to be in California twice for fundraisers during the next month, one at the home of actor George Clooney on Thursday night and another aimed specifically at gay donors on June 6.
Movie producer Bruce Cohen, a founding board member of the group funding the court fight to overturn Proposition 8, predicted that the president's new position will have a huge effect on his reception at the events.
"Up to this point, I've had moderate success raising funds for the June 6 event. After this point, I expect to have a lot more success," Cohen said. "I'm excited to go out to everyone again, because now there is no, 'Please, just hold on and grin and bear it.' There is no apology needed in the plea for his reelection."
Chloe Harris Frankeny, a San Francisco magazine editor who married her wife, Frankie, in the weeks before Proposition 8's passage, said the couple always knew Obama would eventually support same-sex marriages but "kind of suspected he would lame duck it" and wait until after November. Frankeny now feels like she has a lot to hope for.
"When he spoke today, I thought, OK, I'm in. I will donate now," she said. "There was never any doubt I would vote for him in this election, but now I feel compelled to support him in a way I might not have before."
Newsom said Obama showed courage taking the position so close to an election but added the president had been in an untenable position because the longer he avoided the gay marriage issue, the more he alienated his base.
"The brand was being impacted, the president's brand of being an authentic leader, of not reading the polls but changing the polls," Newsom said.