West Hollywood Mayor: Prop 8 Engaged New Generation of Activists

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Monday March 5, 2012

In the hours after the passage of California's voter-approved ban on marriage for same-sex couples, thousands of people marched down Santa Monica and Sunset Boulevards in West Hollywood to express their outrage. Others in neighboring Los Angeles, New York City and other cities across the country took part in similar protests.

Did Proposition 8 inspire a new generation of LGBT activists to fight for LGBT rights?

"When Prop 8 passed, at least here in California, a whole new group of activists were born because they felt the sting of discrimination and that's often what it takes," said West Hollywood Mayor John Duran during a Feb. 27 interview at a Starbucks along Santa Monica Boulevard.

Duran spoke to EDGE less than three weeks after a three-judge panel with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld now-retired Chief U.S. Judge Vaughn Walker's Aug. 2010 decision that found Prop 8 unconstitutional. A federal judge in San Francisco ruled on Feb. 22 that the federal government cannot deny health insurance to the wife of a lesbian staff lawyer with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals under the Defense of Marriage Act. A new Field Poll that was released on Feb. 29 indicates that 59 percent of Californians now support nuptials for same-sex couples.

Beyond California, the movement for marriage for gays and lesbians has gained significant momentum in recent weeks.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley on March 1 signed his state's marriage equality bill into law, while Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a similar measure on Feb. 13. New Jersey lawmakers approved a bill last month that would have allowed same-sex couples to marry in the Garden State, but Gov. Chris Christie vetoed it. Maine voters in November will consider a ballot initiative that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot.

North Carolina voters in May will vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. Minnesotans will decide a similar ballot measure in November, while New Hampshire lawmakers are poised to vote on a bill later this month that would repeal their state's marriage equality law that took effect in 2010.

Duran said LGBT historians will actually look back at Prop 8's passage as a "blessing" because it "really engaged a whole new generation of activists" as the AIDS epidemic did in the early 1980s and the fight to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.

"When Proposition 8 passed, the next night we had 10,000 people in the street here because people got hurt by the passage of Prop 8," he said. "Prior to that, trying to organize people to lobby their assembly member or state senator-we had marriage bills in the state Legislature-it was like pulling teeth to try to get people involved. So sometimes negative political circumstances are the greatest mobilizing tool we have."

Duran noted that "Prop 8 babies" who became involved in the movement after the passage of the voter-approved ban on marriage for same-sex couples remain impatient over the lack of nuptials for gays and lesbians in the state. He said the majority of his city's older residents, however, look at the issue from a long-term perspective.

"Those generations who have been around a little longer who have suffered political setbacks along the way, whether it was on the issue of employment discrimination or HIV and AIDS or gays in the military-we know that it's not a sprint, it's a marathon," said Duran. "It's often three steps forward, two back. Two steps forward, one back. It's just the way it is."

Duran, who is a member of a coalition of mayors from across the country that includes Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, does not expect the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the Prop 8 case. He remains optimistic that same-sex couples will once again be able to marry in California by the end of the year.

"We're ready to go again in City Hall," said Duran.

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.

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