On June 17, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will be missing in action. Instead of standing on the steps of City Hall, reading vows to Chuck and Mike or Deb and Julie, he will be visiting with airport security experts in Israel…far, far away from the TV camera crews that will be filming every man-to-man and woman-to-woman kiss for a world-wide audience.
The official word from the Mayor's Office is that Villaraigosa arranged his most recent excursion outside of Los Angeles's city limits–and there have been many of them–a long time ago. “The Israel trip has been planned for months,” press secretary Gil Duran writes to me in an email, “since before the historic (California Supreme Court) ruling.”
Maybe so, but the supreme court justices took up the same sex marriage case in early March, with a 90-day deadline to deliver their decision. Villaraigosa and his staff must have known that June weddings for gays were a distinct possibility. Why not keep the calendar clear and visit the Holy Land in July or August? He is, after all, the mayor, and therefore political leader, of one of the most gay-populated, gay-friendly cities in the entire country.
And while San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom plans to marry gays en masse the minute the supreme court's ruling turns into law on June 16, Villaraigosa has yet to iron out the details with Los Angeles County officials, who are responsible for marriage licenses, that will allow the mayor to preside over same sex weddings. “Our office is working with the county to take care of all the official documentation that is required to make this happen,” Duran writes. Elected officials in West Hollywood sealed a deal with the county last week.
Still, Duran writes, “There is tremendous enthusiasm and excitement at City Hall as this historic new era approaches. The Mayor has received several requests to officiate at same sex marriages and he would like to accommodate them all.” Which is probably true. Villaraigosa has always been a vocal supporter of gay marriage, and when he returns from Israel on June 19, he probably will marry a few gays and lesbians for the cameras. But there is still something disturbing about the mayor's nonchalant approach to next week's events.
June 17 is not some ordinary day, as Duran twice acknowledges. It is a historic day, when California becomes only the second state in the nation to grant gays and lesbians the right to marry. It is a major date not only in the history of this country's gay rights movement, but civil rights movements in general…and a celebration of that powerfully eloquent sentence Thomas Jefferson wrote nearly 232 years ago in the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Next Tuesday has that kind of gravity, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will not be there as a participant or witness.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.