SAN FRANCISCO – Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards, kicked off San Francisco's annual gay pride parade Sunday by splitting with her husband over support for legalized gay marriage.
"I don't know why someone else's marriage has anything to do with me," Mrs. Edwards said at a news conference before the parade started. "I'm completely comfortable with gay marriage."
She made the remark almost offhandedly in answering a question from reporters after she delivered a standard campaign stump speech during a breakfast hosted by the Alice B. Toklas Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Democratic Club, an influential San Francisco political organization. California's presidential primary is Feb. 5, one of the earliest contests in the nation.
She conceded her support puts her at odds with her husband, a former senator from North Carolina who she said supports civil unions among gay couples — but not same-sex marriages.
"John has been pretty clear about it, that he is very conflicted," she said. "He has a deeply held belief against any form of discrimination, but that's up against his being raised in the 1950s in a rural southern town."
No serious presidential candidate from either major political party has publicly supported gay marriage.
"John believes that couples in committed long-term relationships should enjoy the same rights, benefits and responsibilities regardless of whether they are straight couples or same-sex couples," Edwards said earlier during her speech. "He supports civil unions."
When John Edwards was asked about gay marriage during a debate earlier this month, he emphasized his support for civil unions and partnership benefits but said, "I don't think the federal government has a role in telling either states or religious institutions, churches, what marriages they can bless and can't bless."
Elizabeth Edwards delivered her speech before a roomful of San Francisco's most powerful politicians, including Mayor Gavin Newsom, who in 2004 legalized gay marriage in San Francisco. The California Supreme Court has since prohibited same-sex marriages while it considers the legality of the issue.
Edwards also said her husband believes in ending the "don't ask, don't tell" government policy regarding gays serving in the military.
"The military is already sexually integrated," she said to laughter and applause.
Julius Turman, the Toklas organization's co-chairman, said all major Democratic candidates were invited to address the club, but only Edwards accepted.
San Francisco's gay pride parade is a campy civil rights celebration, sprinkled with drag queens, leather chaps and a healthy dose of nudity — but very few, if any, mainstream, national politicians. Even San Francisco resident Sen. Dianne Feinstein, when she served as mayor here from 1978 to 1988, never rode in the annual parade that started in 1970.
That's why local politicians and activists hailed Elizabeth Edwards' appearance Sunday as another step for gay civil rights.
"It's very powerful thing," Newsom said. "The symbolism is very important."
San Francisco Assemblyman Mark Leno said Edwards' appearance didn't go far enough.
"This is definitely a step in the right direction in the evolution of the civil rights fight," Leno said. "But it's not like she's out there riding with me in the parade."