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Mayor is wedded to same-sex marriage

June 24, 2008|David Zahniser and Phil Willon | Times Staff Writers

With the clink of champagne glasses, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Monday became the latest politician to preside over the marriage of a same-sex couple, uniting a Hollywood producer and his five-year companion in a short ceremony at City Hall.

The mayor joined a growing list of political figures who are eagerly officiating gay weddings -- and gambling that championing same-sex marriage will not come at a political cost. Yet Monday's ceremony showed the risks faced by politicians who embrace the issue, which remains controversial among voters.

Moments after the champagne was poured, a woman who introduced herself as the "Angel of the Trinity" strode up to the podium to denounce the ceremony and call Villaraigosa an "adulterer" -- a reference to his extramarital affair with a television reporter.

"I don't believe that gay marriage is morally right," said Rosalyn Schultz of Hesperia, moments after the mayor shooed her away from the lectern. Schultz went on to warn that such unions would invite earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes.

Producer Bruce Cohen, one of the grooms, said the interruption "added spice" to the ceremony. "It doesn't spoil our day. It doesn't take away our joy," he told City News Service. "And it certainly doesn't change the fact that we are legally married in the state of California."

Villaraigosa quickly left the room, and his spokesman, Matt Szabo, had no comment on the incident. But last week, the mayor said that allowing same-sex couples to marry boils down to a fundamental issue of equality.

"The California electorate is coming into a new age realizing that [gay] marriage is an institution that supports family values, and it's certainly one I support," Villaraigosa said. "I certainly respect people of faith who disagree. I also respect the law, and I'm sworn to uphold the law."

Since the state Supreme Court ruled last month that gays have a fundamental right to wed, politicians throughout Los Angeles have become eager to officiate same-sex marriages -- events that could deliver political goodwill and possibly lead to financial support in an election.

While Villaraigosa was in Israel last week, City Council President Eric Garcetti wheeled an upright piano onto the south lawn of City Hall so he could preside over a wedding between two of his former staffers.

Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who is openly gay, showed up at one of the state's first same-sex weddings last week and was mistaken for a rabbi by one news reporter.

Villaraigosa's ceremony uniting Cohen and art consultant Gabriel Catone was held before a row of cameras and occurred right before the 5 p.m. TV news.

One political consultant argued that gay weddings would pose a greater risk to Villaraigosa if he runs for governor in 2010, when he would need to woo the state's more conservative voters. But even that risk is diminished by the fact that a potential opponent, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, has already established himself as a trailblazer for gay marriage through his advocacy on the issue.

"I think what you don't want to do, if you're Antonio Villaraigosa or even Gavin Newsom and you're going to run statewide, is give everyone in the state the idea that this is what you're all about," said Rob Stutzman, who managed the successful campaign in 2000 for Proposition 22, which defined marriage as being between a man and a woman but was overturned by the state Supreme Court.

Because California voters will decide in November whether to approve a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, the issue will be resolved long before any campaigning for the governor's office begins, said Democratic consultant Bill Carrick.

"It will also be the universally accepted position of any Democratic candidate," Carrick added.

Although marrying off same-sex couples may have political repercussions in central California, such activities can also provide a political boost to a candidate in large urban centers.

Cohen, an Oscar-winning producer and friend of Villaraigosa's, is also a co-host of a reelection campaign fundraiser for the mayor Saturday, according to an invitation filed with the city's Ethics Commission. The invitation shows a roster of local gay and lesbian leaders listed as co-hosts, including West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran and former Los Angeles Police Commissioner Shelley Freeman.

On the day the state Supreme Court struck down state law banning same-sex marriage, Villaraigosa dashed out to the courtyard of L.A.'s Gay and Lesbian Center and, speaking to reporters, vowed to officiate as many weddings as possible.

Still, he missed the media crush on the first day that same-sex marriages were permitted in California because he was on a one-week homeland security mission in Israel.

Newsom did not miss the historic day. In images beamed across the nation, he married the same couple he had wed four years ago when he thumbed his nose at the state's ban on gay marriage until the high court ordered him to stop issuing licenses.

Villaraigosa's administration is sprinkled with mayoral aides and department heads who are openly gay or lesbian. The list includes Cecilia Estolano, who heads the Community Redevelopment Agency, and Mercedes Marquez, general manager of the Housing Department. Minutes after the Cohen and Catone marriage ceremony, Villaraigosa presided over a private wedding between Marquez and her partner, Mirta Ocana.

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

phil.willon@latimes.com

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