After months of living legal limbo, Redondo Beach Mayor Mike Gin’s marriage was finally declared legal several days ago by the California Supreme Court. But marital validation was no tonic for Gin, who wasn’t celebrating the landmark decisions on same-sex marriage issued last week by the California Supreme Court.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling,” he admits. “My husband and I are thrilled about that part of the ruling that affects us, but there are many other couples now who cannot share in the happiness that we were able to experience on our wedding day. I’m hoping that someday all of us can experience that same happiness.”
Gin and his husband, Christopher Kreidel, were part of the pool of approximately 18,000 gay people married after the California Supreme Court ruled a year ago that same-sex marriages were legal, but before the Proposition 8 vote last fall banned same-sex marriage.
Despite the ruling early last week upholding Prop. 8, he is not discouraged. He notes that Prop. 22, the long-standing gay-marriage ban overturned by the courts last May, passed in 2000 with 60 percent of the vote, while Prop. 8 passed with only 52 percent.
“I think it is still a very strong social issue on both sides in our society right now,” he says. “But the voting numbers show that as a society we’re moving in the right direction.”
Gin is an unusual public official in that he is gay, married, Asian-American — and popular at a time when California politicians are reaching new lows in approval-rating polls. After serving eight years on the Redondo City Council and four as mayor, Gin has developed a reputation as a classic old-school politician who listens patiently to residents, considers a wide array of arguments and interests before making a decision, and goes out of his way to avoid confrontation.
“I don’t think he has an enemy in the world, and that’s amazing for any mayor anywhere,” says former Redondo City Councilman Steve Aspel. “He’s just one of the nicest people in the whole wide world. And it’s not an act. People can see that, and they respond well to it.”
Gin was re-elected to a second term without opposition in March, an unlikely feat in a beachside city that, despite its quiet appearance, is known for cutthroat local politics. He’s widely viewed as one of the most popular mayors the city has seen.
He is also one of the highest-ranking gay, married public officials in California, and has been out ever since his college years at the University of Southern California.
He has never made his sexuality a political issue and rarely talks about it. In an interview with L.A. Weekly, however, he talked publicly for the first time about coming out to his family, about how the voters learned of his sexual orientation without him explicitly coming out, and his decision to get married three days before the Prop. 8 vote last November.
“Christopher and I had talked about getting married ever since the Supreme Court legalized it last summer,” he says. “Of course, we had thought about it for quite some time before that.”
Getting in under the deadline in case Prop. 8 passed was a factor in the last-minute decision, but the turning point was a phone call from his attorney, Bob Valentine.
“Bob Valentine asked me if I would officiate at his wedding when he got married,” Gin recalled. “I thought about it and asked him in return if he would do us the honor of marrying Chris and I. . That was when I realized that we wanted to do this, that we did not want to take a chance on an election, and that it was the right time. That phone call was the catalyst.”
Their marriage at the Morrell House in Redondo’s Dominguez Park was a low-key affair attended by about 60 people. Gin said he wasn’t trying to make a statement about Prop. 8 so much as ensure that he would be able to marry his partner of 14 years and gain the legal protections that marriage provides.
Aspel, the former Redondo councilman, said the wedding was “kind of a tearjerker. Not because they tried to make same-sex marriage a big thing, but because it was so clear that these were two people in love who deserved the right to get married if they wanted to.”
Aspel, who calls himself a conservative Democrat, said he and his wife supported their right to marry, even though his wife is “a Catholic conservative who voted for George Bush. But she knows Mike, she respects Mike, and she knows that he loves Chris. So she was happy for them.”
Gin is so low-key about his sexuality, Aspel says, that he knew him for 10 years after meeting at the Rotary Club before he realized that Gin was gay and that Christopher was more than just his good friend.
“He’s been a buddy of mine almost since the day I met him, and there’s no way it impacted my friendship with him,” he says. “My wife and I were proud to attend their wedding.”
Twenty years ago, Gin came out to his family — a much tougher experience. Born in Inglewood, Gin grew up in South Los Angeles and later moved to Hawthorne, graduating from Leuzinger High School in nearby Lawndale. He moved to North Redondo in 1988.
He says his mother had suspected he might be gay, but the subject never came out in the open until one day during his senior year at USC when he and his sister were visiting their parents in Hawthorne.
“The whole family was there, just sitting around the living room,” Gin recalled. “Suddenly my sister asked what was going on with me. She said, ‘We just want to know, are you gay?’ I started crying, and it became a very emotional moment.”
His father was born in China and his mother in the United States; they both had trouble accepting his revelation. “It took a while for my parents to accept it, and it hasn’t been an easy road for them,” he says. “I’m just thankful that in the end my parents have accepted me and my husband.”
The road to understanding and accepting his sexuality was a little smoother when it came to Redondo’s voting public, he says.
“It was really a process that began when I was first elected to the City Council in 1995. I was very surprised, even amazed, that I got elected outright without a runoff,” he says. “I felt very fortunate, because that’s the same year I met my husband shortly after taking office.”
No one mentioned sexuality or sexual-identity politics in that first City Council race, he recalls. “I don’t wear my sexual orientation on my sleeve, and my opponent didn’t bring it up,” he says.
But almost from his first council meeting, Gin says, the public and the rest of the council began to realize that he was gay.
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“Christopher always accompanied me to council meetings and other public events, so it became fairly well known,” he says. When he ran for mayor in 2005, his sexuality finally became an issue when a flier was circulated implying that Gin was gay and therefore shouldn’t be elected.
“By that time a lot of folks had come to know me personally, and I think it actually backfired on them and helped me get elected,” he says.
One memory of the emerging tolerance he felt is still strong. “One individual called and said I disagree with your lifestyle, but I support you as mayor and I want you to run my city,” he said. “That was special.”
Summing up Gin’s appeal, Aspel called on his personal experiences. “We’ve even double-dated with them,” he said. “They’re a fun couple to go out with.”