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West Hollywood Mayor Takes Stand for Gay Marriage

Speaking out in favor of same-sex unions, Jeffrey Prang registers as a domestic partner during City Hall ceremony turned political rally.

March 29, 2004|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

Most Hollywood couples go out of their way to avoid paparazzi. But on Sunday, just moments after he officially registered as a domestic partner with Raymundo Vizcarra, West Hollywood Mayor Jeffrey Prang jumped in front of the television cameras.

"We don't have marriage," he said at the close of the ceremony. "We don't have that choice here in West Hollywood today."

Instead, West Hollywood, like many cities in California, including Los Angeles, can officially register gay couples as domestic partners, a designation that does not carry the same legal privileges as marriage.

When San Francisco began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples Feb. 12, eventually marrying 4,100 before the California Supreme Court halted the practice March 11, West Hollywood officials were inundated with requests that they follow suit.

In a city where three of the five City Council members are gay, many officials wish they could. But they can't. Only counties can issue marriage licenses -- and unlike anywhere else in California, San Francisco is both a city and a county.

So instead of presiding over gay marriages as Mayor Gavin Newsom did in San Francisco, the 41-year-old Prang decided to turn his own ceremony into a political event.

"I wanted to make a statement, here in my City Hall," said Prang, a white orchid sprouting from his lapel.

Palm Springs Mayor Ron Oden, the state's other high-profile gay mayor, officiated, lacing his remarks with references to privileges denied same-sex couples, such as Social Security benefits.

Political figures from around the county -- including Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry, former Councilwoman Ruth Galanter and officials from Norwalk, Huntington Park and Monterey Park -- stood by. One woman wore a T-shirt that read: "Marriage is a human right, not a heterosexual privilege."

But lest anyone forget this was more than a political rally, a frothy white cake with two little plastic grooms planted on top sat on a table in the City Hall lobby.

"This means so much more validation for our relationship," Vizcarra said, his hand entwined with Prang's. Vizcarra, 25, said he told his mother he was gay just two years ago, and was moved to see his family in the same room with Prang's.

The two met last June at a gay pride event. Prang was manning West Hollywood's booth at the festivities, under a sign that said, "Meet the Mayor." But he didn't look very mayoral, according to Vizcarra, who approached him thinking he was just sitting in the booth while the real mayor took a break.

"I expected the mayor to be in a suit," he said, saying he only accepted that Prang might be the city's chief executive after two weeks of attending ceremonial events with him.

The two said they may honeymoon in Costa Rica, but only after Vizcarra graduates from college later this spring.

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