Weddings in San Francisco give PR boost to gay unions

SAN FRANCISCO: Mayor Gavin Newsom's (D) decision to allow same-sex marriages has been hailed by many as courageous, while still derided by others as shocking. Yet many agree that the decision, and the resulting media coverage, was a brilliant PR move by those wishing to force a public debate on this contentious issue.

SAN FRANCISCO: Mayor Gavin Newsom's (D) decision to allow same-sex marriages has been hailed by many as courageous, while still derided by others as shocking. Yet many agree that the decision, and the resulting media coverage, was a brilliant PR move by those wishing to force a public debate on this contentious issue.

"This has been good PR on the mayor's part," said Thom Lynch, executive director of the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center.

He pointed out that the first couple married, Phyllis Lyon, 79, and Del Martin, 83, looked like grandmothers. Pictures of the elderly couple were widely circulated in the media.

"It was brilliant to have them as the first couple to get married," said Lynch. "They've been a couple for 51 years. How can you say they didn't deserve it?"

Lynch also feels that the coverage has been as even-handed as it has been widespread.

"What's been amazing is we've received calls from so many news organizations outside the Bay Area," said Lynch. "At first I got calls from Los Angeles, but then it was Fox News and media from New Zealand. I've been pretty impressed with the tone of the coverage. It's been even-handed and neutral, and some of it has been outright positive."

Others see the move by Newsom as a deft political one.

"I think it's one of the best political and public relations moves of the new administration, and will be looked back upon in history as a significant moment in the gay rights movement," said Sam Singer, president of Singer Associates, based in San Francisco. "This is a key issue that resonates with one of the leading constituencies in San Francisco."

All the attention is also having an impact outside the Bay Area. It gave a huge media boost to several organizations' annual Valentine's Day campaigns. For many years, gay rights activists have encouraged same-sex couples to illustrate their plight on or near Valentine's Day.

Last year, the Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the West Hollywood, CA-based Metropolitan Community Church, and his partner decided to apply for a marriage license on Valentine's Day, said denomination spokesman Jim Birkitt. As a result, the church prepared an action kit that included a sample press release and attention-getting suggestions for "Freedom to Marry Week." About 4,000 couples nationally sought licenses or otherwise participated last year.

Evan Wolfson, executive director of the New York-based Freedom to Marry Coalition, said he has been swamped with media calls since gay marriages began in San Francisco.

"I stopped sleeping," he said. "The phone is now glued to my ear."

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