11/07/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Gavin Newsom Calls Out Joe Biden Over Gay Marriage

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is the not-so-unexpected "star" of the new Yes on 8 commercial designed to get voters to overturn marriage equality in California on Nov. 4.

In an extemporaneous speech before the LGBT Long Beach Lambda Democratic Club Sunday night aboard the Queen Mary, Newsom went beyond urging activism to defeat Proposition 8; he spoke of his frustration with Senator Joe Biden's agreement with Sarah Palin over same sex marriage in the vice presidential debate last Thursday. The Yes on 8 campaign is already using the agreement to support their cause.

For Newsom, Biden's comments were not just a minor gaffe, since equality is a fundamental principle of the Democratic Party. It is therefore imperative, he said, to hold Democrats accountable when they skirt that principle.

To set the stage for the slew of young people in the audience, Newsom talked about the how far America has come on equality -- and how far the country still has to go. He reminded people that in 1967, interracial marriage was prohibited in 16 states, until the famous Loving v. Virginia case. At one point a judge told Richard Loving, a white man who broke the law by marrying his African American wife Mildred, "God, sir, God put different races on different continents for a reason. God never wanted the races to mix."

Newsom then segued into the Yes on 8 ad, Democratic principles -- and Joe Biden.

"Now here we are 2006, 2007, now 2008. And people are rightly saying - now wait a second. Do the courts of this country have the right to legislate from the bench? What is going on with these activist judges? Let the people decide. Why is it that people can change the definition of marriage - let the people decide. It's a democracy, isn't it, after all, they say.

Well, let's go back to 1967 when the US Supreme Court finally did the right thing in that Loving versus Virginia case and did away with the idea that the institution of marriage should be reserved for people of the same race. Think of where public opinion was in 1967 - let the people decide, they say, today.

As god is my witness, I have three polls [from 1967] and I have them in my desk because I wanted to verify them. 70% of Americans opposed inter-racial marriage in 1967. Only 30% agreed with that court decision in 1967....

There's a reason the Constitution exists: it's not the whims of the majority that should determine the fate of a minority. It's the principles that have stood the tests of time in the Constitution. And that's what's at stake.

Look back at this country. Dr. King was absolutely right. He said "the long arc of history always bends toward justice." But as Barack Obama and others keep reminding us -- we've got to go up there and pull that thing down. It's faith and works. And works. You've got to make the change.

But the idea has always been that we often times in this country get it wrong. We did for African Americans, we did for women -- remember women couldn't vote....

But we eventually get it right. And it's the Constitution that's used to argue those fundamental principles. What was Brown v. the Board of Education if nothing but a vindication of previous bad decisions that were ultimately made right? In 2004, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Brown v. the Board of Education. Now it's the 54th anniversary. Separate is not equal.

How about the debate two days ago? I don't mean this as a critique -- because I'm a Democrat like you and I'm very passionate about this ticket this year -- but I'm frustrated. I'd be lying to you and misleading you and patronizing you as a Democratic Club that I was particularly proud of the only thing that Sarah Palin and Joe Biden agreed on is the notion that gay people should only run the 90 year dash on equality. That's what they said. Both of them said that. Sarah Palin agreed with Joe Biden.

It's one thing for Sarah Palin -- a proud cultural conservative. But it was very frustrating for someone who has done fundraisers for Senator Biden -- who believes in him, who is excited about him, his future, and the future of this country with him as vice-president - that he agreed. That somehow a party that has always stood for the principles of human rights, on women's rights, on civil rights, on environmental justice and labor rights - that somehow today, our party leadership is arguing that separate is now somehow equal - but only for the gay community. That's wrong. And we've got to call them out on it. We have to stand up on it. Absolutely.

Civil unions are not marriage. It is a separate institution. And it is remarkable to me that a party in particular that sits there - and we give those wonderful speeches at those Jefferson Jackson dinners and all the like and we talk about those principles and the mind and greatness of our party - and we sit there and we say, well, we care so much about the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community - but here we are at a moment in time - at a moment in history - when we have a chance to say publicly - what so often so many of us privately - but we're still running short.

This is what we have at stake in Proposition 8 - the opportunity to give these folks a little bit of courage. To give these folks a little bit of backbone. To give them the opportunity to say, well, the people of California decided, the folks out there in Massachusetts have done the right thing and maybe it's time we live by the principles we've always advanced. Maybe it's just time that we call it like it is - it's the right thing to do. Separate is not equal. We believe in equality and equality means to extend - not on the basis race or ethnicity, not on the basis gender exclusively, but on the basis of sexual orientation - 100% of the way, not 90% of the way. Gay parity. Gay equality. That's true equality.

So I'm here with you in affirmation of a principle that I believe in - something that to me is foundational because everything else is only possible when you have a level playing field. I'm not interested in talking about healthcare, education, the environment, poverty and economic development - I'm absolutely committed to those things. But we have to level the playing field because if you have a foundation that is not equal, or not weighted equally, then everything else just doesn't necessarily work out the way it should.

This is a principle worthy fighting for. And this is an opportunity of a lifetime. We're 30 days away. The folks that wrote Prop 8 are the same folks that supported George Bush when he tried to write discrimination inti the Constitution of the United States and was rejected four years ago. They are here in California - a state that's always on the cutting edge of new ideas - and they're trying to do the work they failed to do with President Bush four years ago.

But the difference is - and don't forget - the right already exists in our state. They're not talking about locking the door that's never been open. They're talking about shutting the door that's been pushed wide open. The California Supreme Court and our Legislature on two separate occasions have said it is right and legally defensible and constitutionally appropriate for gay/lesbian community members - our brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles - to have the same rights and freedom as everybody else. But these folks now want to take that away. They want to write discrimination into a constitution that's been amended since the Bill of Rights only 21 or so times - each and every time been amended to advance people's rights - not to deny people's rights.

We have a chance to reject that. We have a chance to say, NO. We have a chance to send a powerful message across not only the state but around the rest of the world because people look to us to see that it's possible to live together and advance together and prosper together across our differences. That's the magic of our state - one of the most diverse states in the world's most diverse democracy. People count on us - as I count on all of us in this room to do everything in our power not to dream of regretting on Nov. 4.

Let's do everything to complete the work that so many of you have struggled a lifetime to advance. Please - I encourage you - reject Proposition 8. Thank you all very, very much.