Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gave his support to a marriage equality plank in the Democratic Party platform at a Politico event in Washington, D.C Wednesday, March 7. As chair of the 2012 Democratic Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, Villaraigosa’s endorsement should matter to the delegates. But the question is now: will the longtime supporter of LGBT equality be a fierce advocate and push for the plank or be hands off?
Villaraigosa’s very presence as convention chair already is a stark contrast with the Republican Party in the Democrats outreach to critical Latino voters. “They’re going to lose the Latino electorate and they’re going to lose it for some time,” Villaraigosa said, according to Bloomberg News. “This is the first time in modern history that I can recall where a major candidate for either party does not support comprehensive immigration reform.”
But some of that Latino electorate may also be swayed by conservative Catholic or evangelical Latino religious leaders more concerned about “traditional” marriage than immigration. In California, Villaraigosa and labor icon Dolores Huerta, co-founder with Cesar Chavez of the United Farmer Workers and Equality California board member, are among the scores of straight Latino political leaders who give lie to the widely held belief that all Latino Catholics oppose marriage equality. Indeed, they are aware that the third most politically powerful person in California – Villaraigosa’s cousin John A. Perez – is not allowed the fundamental constitutional right to marry because he is openly gay.
That’s surely one reason why Villaraigosa said this on Wednesday:
As Think Progress points out:
At least 22 senators and seven co-chairs of President Obama’s re-election bid have indicated their support for including marriage equality in the platform, as part of Freedom To Marry’s Democrats: Say I Do campaign. Interestingly, Villaraigosa was far more circumspect about the effort last month, telling reporters on a conference call that while he backs marriage equality, that “it’s not for me to dictate” whether that position is part of the party’s official platform.
The mayor’s office sent this statement as a follow up to the Politico appearance:
If we truly believe in family values, we should value all families. I have supported marriage equality since 1994, opposed and fought Proposition 8, am proud to serve as a co-chair of Mayors for the Freedom to Marry — and I strongly endorse a Democratic Party platform that supports full marriage equality.
The Democratic Party platform will be developed by our platform committee and voted on by all delegates to the Democratic National Convention. As it develops the platform, our party will listen to all voices from all parts of the country. It’s all part of putting on the most open and accessible convention in our country’s history.
The announcement Wednesday is a natural follow up to Villaraigosa’s leadership exhibited for the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry news conference during the Winter Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
And while Villaraigosa still notes that it’s up to the delegates to determine what exactly goes into the Party platform – the question now is to what extent, if any, Villaraigosa will advocate for the Freedom to Marry language to be adopted?
As Villaraigosa noted to Politico, he has been a champion of LGBT equality since 1994 when he won his race for the 45th Assembly District with the help of the LGBT community.
Also elected that year was Shelia James Kuehl, the first openly gay member of the California Legislature who Villaraigosa approached with an offer to start the first unofficial LGBT Caucus. In 1999, As Speaker of the Assembly, he essentially put his Speakership on the line in pushing to pass Kuehl’s important “Dignity for All Students” bill. The bill failed by one vote that year but Villaraigosa won the hearts of many the LGBT community for his ardent effort.
The following year, in 2000, Villaraigosa was an honorary co-chair of the unsuccessful campaign to defeat the antigay Prop 22. Not only did he speak out and attend events, he contributed $10,000 of his own money to the campaign.
In 2003, as a member of the LA City Council, Villaraigosa was named a national co-chair of Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign. When some Democratic leaders blamed gays for Karl Rove engineering the antigay ballot initiatives in 11 states to get out the evangelical vote – Villaraigosa stood up and said Kerry’s defeat was a result of a bad campaign, not the gay community.
In 2008, Villaraigosa was again in the forefront of battling Prop 8, donating $25,000 to the No on Prop 8 campaign as well as speaking out and showing up at numerous rallies – even in the rain. He proudly officiated at the weddings of Oscar-winning producer Bruce Cohen and Gabriel Catone, among others.
“I entered politics because the America of my dreams includes everyone, not just a few.
Too many people have suffered injustice, discrimination, and inequality. It’s time to bring every American out of the shadows and into the light. Our laws should not be used to single one group out to be treated differently. Instead, our laws should guarantee the same fundamental rights to every Californian.
Same-sex marriage is the law of the land in California. In my legal capacity as Mayor of Los Angeles, I have proudly officiated many same-sex weddings since the Supreme Court ruling in June confirmed the constitutionality of these unions.
These are loving, committed couples who want to get married for universal reasons: they love, care for, protect and take responsibility for each other.
I vow to vote No on Proposition 8 because I believe our civil society demands that we uphold — not eliminate — these fundamental rights. I believe all Californians deserve to be treated equally. And I believe that government exists to protect individual rights, not to undermine them.
Unfortunately, polls now show that the anti-marriage equality “Yes on 8″ campaign is leading, just as vote-by-mail ballots arrive in voters’ mailboxes across California. The “No on 8″ campaign needs our help today to get the marriage equality message out on TV immediately. That’s why I’m taking a stand against Prop. 8 today by contributing $25,000 to the “No on 8″ campaign. And I would like you to join me by digging deep and contributing whatever you can afford – whether it’s $5, $50, $500, or $5,000 – to the “No on 8″ campaign on Courage’s ActBlue page right now
Opponents of marriage equality have blanketed California with misleading ads and have raised an unprecedented sum of money, outspending the “No on 8″ campaign by over $10 million. In fact, the “Yes on 8″ campaign received so many individual contributions, both large and small, that the sheer volume crashed the Secretary of State’s reporting system last Tuesday.
I know that many defenders of marriage equality just like you have contributed a lot of money so far to the “No on 8″ campaign — but we need to redouble our efforts now to match the flood of money raised by supporters of Prop 8. Californians from across the political and cultural spectrum have united to fight Prop 8 and defend fundamental rights ….
Our state constitution protects our rights. It should not be used to deny civil rights to anyone.
Please join me in supporting the No on 8 campaign. And tell your friends by forwarding this Courage Campaign message. Together, we can take a stand for the right of every Californian to marry the person they love.
Thank you for vowing to vote No on -and contribute to the defeat of — Prop 8.
Mayor of Los Angeles”
When District Court Judge Vaughn Walker declared Prop 8 unconstitutional, Villaraigosa was among those who cheered at the American Foundation for Equal Rights rally in West Hollywood:
Villaraigosa is used to being a leader – but will he step back from this issue if asked by the more lukewarm Obama administration?
This is the response from the campaign manager Jim Messina when asked on a Wednesday morning conference call about Villaraigosa’s endorsement and if Obama would support the plank, per Think Progress:
MESSINA: Look, we’re the big tent party here. POTUS has a great record on fighting for fundamental fairness for all Americans. You know, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and many other accomplishments we are very very proud of. You know, there’s a process — there’s no even a delegate platform committee yet — there’s a process to go through this discussion, and the DNC will go through that, and we will have a platform.
But our record stands in sharp contrast to the other side. And what the other side has said is they want a constitutional amendment on anti-marriage, they want to put back into place Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and a bunch of other regressive policies. And so that couldn’t be any more contrasted with our record. So there will be a process for that and we will go through that process.
Villaraigosa says he is not running for public office after he is termed out as LA Mayor. So he has nothing to lose and another place in history to gain if he follows through on his strong endorsement and becomes a fierce advocate within the Democratic Party for the right of gay people – including his cousin – to have the fundamental constitutional right to marry. The question is: will he?