Questions for Matt Gonzalez, Green Party candidate in San Francisco mayor's race

1. What is your position on the issue of gay marriage?

My position on gay marriage has been pretty consistent now for many years. I support gay marriage and it was an issue that came up during the mayor’s race, I think, maybe only one time in any of the debates or forums. It’s a city that overwhelmingly supports gay marriage and so it’s not seen as a controversial issue here in San Francisco.

2. So you support gay marriage, inside San Francisco?

I do. I think that what’s happening right now, I think a lot of folks are viewing it as kind of a, you know, municipal anarchy. I’ve heard the phrase used. But I think you have to keep in mind that laws evolve and change in part because they’re challenged. And I think what you’ll see come out of the San Francisco experience is a test case that will be in the courts, that the courts will have to grapple with and perhaps the public will have to make a decision related to a statewide or national ballot initiative.

3. What part of your belief system leads to you feel that gay marriage is acceptable in the United States?

From a belief system based on any kind of notions of equal protection or the value of anti-discrimination. I think reaching a conclusion that gay couples ought to be treated the way other couples are treated, I don't think is a particularly hard conclusion to reach, for me.

I think what’s interesting about the whole idea of marriage is, it seems the word itself seems to trigger something among conservatives unlike any other word or context that I’ve seen before. I think conservatives just need to come to terms with the fact that maybe you have religious marriage, maybe you have civil marriage. Call it civil union, call it whatever you want, but it is, in effect, a civil marriage.

And if they want to discriminate in any particular religious system that they want to, well that’s something that isn’t going to be condoned within the context of a civil marriage. And certainly the rights that we confer on those couples, be it tax benefits — whether it be property reassessment benefits at the time a party dies or something like that, retirement benefits for a surviving spouse — all that. I think we have to move forward on that. And create a more, frankly, a better society that doesn’t get hung up on issues related to sexual orientation.

4. Do you believe that what Gavin Newsom (searchis doing wrong?

I don’t think that what he’s doing is wrong, this whole business of having folks married. I don’t think the opponents of what is taking place are sufficiently respecting the reality of how contemporary standards of equality evolve.

There is that sense that this is outrageous, against the law, etcetera, etcetera. But that’s what was said when women wanted to vote or certain ethnic minorities wanted to own property or inter-racial marriages. Any of the things that we take for granted today, you know, in large part occurred because of some sort of civil disobedience.

In some ways, there’s simply not a huge historic memory for this sort of thing happening. And certainly not by an elected official and I think that’s where it is somewhat unusual. But I think history will be very kind to those of us who are fighting this battle.

5. What about the people who say this doesn’t compare to women fighting for the vote or African-Americans trying to get into white schools, because they believe that gays have a choice as to whether they are gay or not, whereas blacks and women don’t have a choice?

On a question of whether or not this matter compares directly with women’s suffrage issues or the rights of African-Americans, I really can’t. I don’t think any analogy ever works exactly right.

So I would concede that none of these things are identical, but I do think that if you look at civil rights struggles in some kind of wider sense, this is firmly in that place. It’s about what rights you want to confer on individuals who want to enter into a particular kind of relationship.

I will say this, I find it extremely unusual that as a society we feel very strongly that, for instance, prisoners can get married to their pen-pals, but we are going to deny that right to gay couples that have lived together for decades. I don’t see what public benefit, or public interest is served by this frankly schizophrenic way of dealing with this issue

6. Do you believe, by the letter of the law, that what Gavin Newsom is doing is illegal?

The question of whether or not I believe what the mayor is doing is legal or illegal under the law is a difficult one because I am an attorney, I practiced law for 10 years. I saw, many times, laws that were firmly on the books be repudiated by courts of appeal and that happens because someone stands up and says, "I want you to repudiate this prior precedent."

And on the one hand, we revere the idea of stare decisis and the whole idea of precedent within the law, but there is no member of the U.S. Supreme Court that has ever served there for over a decade that will not have clear instances where they have voted to invalidate previous precedent that they themselves helped to create. It simply happens over and over again.

But we just don’t talk about it a lot. I think a good example was the recent case that came out of Texas that overturned Bowers v. Hardwick. Bowers got decided in the mid- to late-80’ and here we are less than 20 years later deciding that it’s not constitutional for a state to try to criminalize sodomy. So what do you say about that?

7. What does your party, the Green Party, want to do about gay marriage? What are their current initiatives?

Well, I think the Green Party (search) has always been very strong on equality issues, and I know that Jason West (search), the mayor of New Paltz, New York, a young Green Party mayor, has followed suit and has been conducting marriages in his city.

So I kind of think that for our party this is not controversial issue. It was also one of the reasons that I personally joined the Green Party. I just felt that, 'Here we are going into the 21st century and certainly at the end of the 20th century, and the Democratic Party had not been able to field a candidate that shared my views as it related to opposition to the death penalty, support for gay marriage, subsidive [for] campaign finance reform, things like that.'

And I think what’s most interesting about the current rift that Newsom's act has caused among Democrats is precisely that … many young progressives who are either declined to state or in the Green Party are only strengthening their opposition to the Democratic Party by virtue of the fact that such revered progressive Democrats like Barbara Boxer (search) and Nancy Pelosi (search) can’t decide what side of the issue they should be on — that they are essentially opposed to gay marriage, and that’s not resonating well with future voters.

8. Do you believe that the current definition of marriage needs to be changed?

Well, I don’t have any strong opinion about whether or not the definition of marriage needs to be changed. Certainly, who is eligible to be married needs to be changed.

And as I mentioned earlier, I do find interesting, I think most conservatives would not be that upset if you tried to confer certain rights and privileges on gay couples through what we call civil unions. But to call it a marriage somehow sparks some other concern for them, which I just don’t find intellectually consistent.

And I think that we should call it what it is. I mean, these are marriages. These are gay individuals who want to be together in a union and want to publicly display that affection for one another and be recognized by the society that they live in. I don’t see any problem dealing with that. And I think in today's day and age many gay couples have children, many of these couples have committed relationships that withstand the test of time ... So I think society ought to acknowledge that.

9. What do you believe will be the final outcome of all of this? What do you hope the final outcome will be?

I think the final outcome of all of this is hard to assess. I think in the 1970s when the very controversial issue of the death penalty was being debated and the U.S. Supreme Court issued what was essentially a moratorium through the Furman v. Georgia decision. I think there was a feeling, a sense that this was something that was likely to be permanent that the death penalty was going to be stopped in the United States and we were going to join Western European countries in doing that.

But by the late '70s the court was back to upholding state statutes related to the death penalty. And here we are a good 25 years later, 30 years later and nobody is seriously saying the death penalty is about to be stopped in the United States. So, I think of that when I think about gay marriage. On the one hand I feel incredibly optimistic that, we’re on the verge of toppling what has been a very discriminatory attitude and law in this country and yet on the other hand maybe this is something that will be around many years from now. I certainly hope not.

10. What do you say to those who think voting for a third party is throwing away your vote?

Well, voting for a third party, whether or not it’s throwing away your vote, I don’t think is inherent in the notion of a third party. I think it’s inherent in a voting system that's used, that favors a two-party system. People often say to me, 'Matt, Ralph Nader (search) cost the election, and Bush won because Al Gore (search) would have got those votes.' I say, 'OK. if that’s true then what have the Democrats done about it in the last four years to fix this problem?'

One thing that they could do to fix it so third parties could emerge is essentially require that before all the votes in any particular state are going to be given to a candidate, that that candidate has to win a majority election. They can't just win a plurality of the votes. That would fix it, and that’s something we could do.

I think one reason the Democrats haven’t fixed it, although they very good at complaining about Ralph Nader, is that they have been the beneficiaries of the kind of third party spoiling before Nader. Eight years earlier, Ross Perot (search) spoiled the election for George Bush Sr. Perot got 19 percent of the vote. Three-quarters of it was coming from George Bush Sr., and Bill Clinton was elected president with 43 percent of the vote. You don’t hear Democrats talking about that when they want to bring up the spoiler issue. I’m hopeful that if we can reform elections, people feel more comfortable getting behind third party candidates.

Questions for Judge Jim Gray (search), Libertarian Senate candidate:

1. What is your position on the issue of gay marriage?

The issue of gay marriage really is completely a state issue and the federal government has no business being involved in it. That includes any form of constitutional amendment, which is inappropriate and really unnecessary.

2. Why do you feel that way?

I feel that way very strongly because of the Constitution and because of my conservative values. Any conservative, real conservative, will tell you that it is appropriate for the most local government to handle various issues completely like this one instead of the federal government.

And the more we get the federal government involved in these things, which are certainly not described in the Constitution or really in reason, the more troubled we get. Let the local states, the local governments take care of matters of this kind.

3. Do you believe that what Gavin Newsom is doing is morally wrong?

I think that the mayor of San Francisco and his actions, as I understand them, is probably in violation of the law. I am a judge. I believe in having reasonable laws, I believe in enforcing those laws. So, for a public official to thumb his nose at the law brings on problems for society that none of us wants to address.

4. Actually you answered my questions out of order, I asked if you believed that what he is doing is morally wrong, but you spoke of the legalities. Do you believe that what Gavin Newsom is doing is morally wrong?

You're asking me to give you a moral interpretation. I just don’t think that that’s appropriate for someone in government to get into issues of that kind. These are issues between church members and people and their consciences. But I think it’s just inappropriate for a government official or candidate to get into that area.

5. What does your party want to do about gay marriage? What are they currently doing?

Well, no one speaks for the Libertarian Party (search) any more than someone speaks for any other party. I think, however, that the Libertarian Party believes in liberty. They believe that I, or your listeners, should be able to live our lives as we deem appropriate as long as that doesn’t adversely affect other people’s rights to do that. So they believe that people should be able to contract, to live and to commit.

Personally, I can tell you that I have had, I think if I remember correctly, four or five occasions in which a natural mother was bringing in her child for adoption, in my court on the adoption calendar and her lesbian partner was seeking to adopt that child. And I gave that issue heightened scrutiny as anyone would. We are supposed to act in the best interest of the child, but once I did that, I actually approved and performed the adoption for each of those instances.

6. Do you believe that the current definition of marriage needs to be changed?

That is again a local issue that people are going to have to grapple with. Our country was based on the principle of federalism, to allow each state, in effect, now 50 crucibles of democracy to address these various issues and work them out. And I think that the federal government should allow that great process to occur.

7. What do you believe will be the final outcome of all of this? What do you hope the final outcome will be?

As far as what I believe the final outcome will be, I think that again with the concept of federalism we are going to have each state trying whatever they feel is appropriate for their people and that we will then see the wisdom or the fallacy of whatever some states do and gravitate over toward addressing the issue that really works, at least for those individual people. Again I feel very strongly that the federal government simply should not be involved in this entire issue.

8. What do you say to those who think voting for a third party is throwing away your vote?

I am asked frequently, even with people that agree with the libertarian philosophy, 'Why should they throw away their vote and vote for a third party candidate like Judge Jim Gray for U.S. Senate?' instead of voting for what they call and what we all call — the lesser of two evils, the Republicans and Democrats.

And I tell them the truth, which is that every vote that I get will be seen literally as a vote in favor of keeping the federal government out of marijuana prohibition, so every vote will count. If I make a strong showing, and I'm devoting a year of my life to this on an unpaid leave of absence, we are going to make a strong showing.

Then both the Republicans and the Democrats will see this and in future elections as the difference between winning and losing. They are going to want those votes and really the only way they are going to ensure themselves of getting them is to change their drug policy, at least, with regard to marijuana. And then, of course, if they do that then we will have won the election. I say don’t throw away your vote on the lesser of two evils for the main parties, have your vote count, and vote for Judge Jim Gray for U.S. Senate, and that really will be an historic vote.