The Castro District on election night was filled with joy and excitement as people poured out into the streets to celebrate the Obama victory. Three nights later, the streets were filled with people protesting, not reveling. That was the weird thing about being a San Franciscan this past week: we won a world-changing victory in the presidential race, and won most of the key races locally but on same-sex marriage, we lost.
There are plenty of reasons for that, and we talk about some of them in this issue. There have been protests at Mormon churches and at some Catholic churches, as there should be, since those two religious groups raised most of the Yes on Proposition 8 money. (And can you imagine how many low-income Catholic-school kids could have been educated and how many hungry people could have been fed for the more than $25 million these folks spent trying to keep people from getting married?)
But if San Francisco really wants a poster boy for the attack on same-sex marriage, a local symbol of bigotry, he’s right in front of us: Archbishop George Niederauer.
Now, if you’re a Catholic archbishop, you kind of have to accept the church’s dogma, which says that marriage is a sacrament that can only be bestowed on a man and a woman. Whatever he can believe and preach what he wants.
But if you’re the archbishop of San Francisco, you don’t have to mount a major political campaign against same-sex marriage. You could decide to use the church’s influence and money helping the poor, for example, which is pretty much what Jesus did. I might have missed that lesson in Catholic school, but I don’t remember the Big J ever saying a word about gay marriage.
Instead, Niederauer and his colleagues made Prop. 8 a huge issue. A flyer produced by the archbishop and handed out widely contained some glaring, inaccurate homophobic crap, including this: "If the Supreme Court ruling stands, public schools may have to teach children that there is no difference between traditional marriage and ‘gay marriage.’"
That infuriated Matt Dorsey, a gay Catholic who is active in Most Holy Redeemer Church. "Far worse than mere falsehood," he said, "is that the claim deliberately plays to the most hateful, vicious stereotypes and fears about gays and lesbians that they are out to recruit (and perhaps even seduce) children."
Dorsey told me that this was part of a clear political campaign. "I would argue that the Catholic bishops in California made a cold, calculated, Karl Rovian decision that they were going to put a lot of skin in the game, so to speak, to beat gays and lesbians," he said, "even to the exclusion of prevailing on, say, Prop. 4 about parental notification for abortion. One would assume abortion is still opposed by Catholic bishops, right? Well, one would hardly have known it by this election. Gays and lesbians were the archbishop’s enemy this year, and abortion got a pass."
Again: I don’t expect the Catholic church to change its position and start marrying same-sex couples, not any time soon, anyway. And Niederauer can’t be expected to openly break with the Vatican. But for the archbishop of a city like San Francisco a church leader who has a surprising number of queers and same-sex couples in his flock to put so many resources into going after people with such an un-Christian hatred was over-the-top unnecessary. And by the way, this guy never talks to the press and won’t return my phone calls.
The good news, of course, is that the archbishop and his colleagues are on the losing side of history. Catholics voted for Prop. 8 by a 64 percent margin but people under 30 (of all faiths and ethnic groups) voted against it by about the same percentage. Same-sex marriage is going to be part of the nation’s future, whether Niederauer likes it or not.