LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. Today, the issue of gay marriage goes before the California Supreme Court. It's a challenge to a measure approved by California voters last year: Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage. This marks the second time the state's voters have outlawed gay marriage. And Gavin Newsom is hoping to overturn the results.

The mayor of San Francisco famously gave out marriage licenses when it was not legal. And he married the first lesbian couple when it briefly was legal last year. Now, his city is part of today's effort to make gay marriage legal again.

Mayor GAVIN NEWSOM (San Francisco, California): Prop 8 did something that no other state in the history of this country's ever done. It took away rights of people that already legally were affirmed, 18,000 couples impacted by that decision. And the question that they're going to be answering as well is whether or not those 18,000 marriages are still valid.

Imagine someone putting an initiative on the ballot saying your wedding, your marriage no longer is valid. Think about this precedent. If in this country a simple majority of people can start stripping away the rights of a protected class and a minority, that's a pretty alarming thing. And so I think it's right what we're doing. Good people can disagree with the politics, but we've got to fight for people's rights. Sometimes that fight is not always easy.

INSKEEP: What do you think it is that has made a majority of California voters uncomfortable with gay marriage? This is not known as a particularly conservative state.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mayor NEWSOM: We've always been on the leading and cutting edge, dreamers and doers, as it's been described. And people look to us for inspiration. That's why I think it was so damning that California would allow people to have basic fundamental rights and then strip those rights by a majority.

I think we ran a lousy campaign. I'll be candid about that. I don't think we communicated effectively. And I think as a consequence of that, the other side was united. They were focused. They spent over $45 million. They had a huge amount of money. They talked about their rights being trampled by a court and activist judges. They talked about the fact that we were going to start teaching in textbooks to young kids about the fairy princesses being able to marry other fairy princesses - literally one of the campaign ads. This was effective. It scared people.

INSKEEP: Your Web site says you're taking the first steps toward running for governor of California in 2010. If you're one of those candidates at that time, do you think on some level this would be an opportunity to take this issue of gay marriage to the people of California yet a third time?

Mayor NEWSOM: Well, if we need to do that, I'll do that. I'm not going to let my political future get in the way of this. People don't have to agree with me. They can say, my gosh, I can't believe I'm listening to this guy. I can't disagree with him more. But at least they know that I'm going to fight for things I believe in. And I don't need to be in formal office to do that.

I keep thinking of some of the world's great leaders. They all had one thing in common: jail time. They had moral authority, not formal authority.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: I'm just trying to think if…

Mayor NEWSOM: And those are my heroes.

INSKEEP: …you've got plans to get yourself thrown in jail at some point.

Mayor NEWSOM: No. I'm not that radical. There's other San Francisco politicians that are better at that.

INSKEEP: Although, let me just ask: Granting that people do go to the courts, you lost before the people. You feel that the reason was that you ran a lousy campaign. Why wouldn't you, rather than going to the courts, just take it straight to the people again, try again at the polls?

Mayor NEWSOM: Yeah. And let me - I appreciate the opportunity to clarify. We ran a lousy campaign and we lost because the majority of people disagree with us. I have members of my family that didn't care how good the campaign was, they said, Gavin, with all do respect, you know, civil unions are good enough. I come from a big Irish Catholic family. So let me extend that it wasn't just a lousy campaign. It was good people that care deeply about other people and respect the rights of gay and lesbians that still disagree with the word. And I…

INSKEEP: What's their reluctance? I mean, these are people that you care about. What's their reluctance?

Mayor NEWSOM: Marriage is marriage. It's historically been between a man and a woman, Adam and Eve and not, as they say in some of these churches, and Steve. Just call it something else. Just call it civil unions. We'll give everyone the exact same rights. Let's call it a day - to which I simply opine that we're now celebrating the 55th anniversary of Brown versus Board of Education. So separate inherently is not equal. There's a reason $45 million was spent against marriage equality, and it's because people understand the word does have meaning. And equality comes when we accept the same principles and same notions and the same institutions for everyone regardless of race and gender and regardless of sexual orientation.

INSKEEP: Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, thanks for coming on the program.

Mayor Newsome: Thanks for having me on.

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