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Gavin Newsom likes to tell the story of the stunned reaction of his father when he told him in 2004 that he was going to open San Francisco City Hall to gay marriage.

On Sunday night, the San Francisco mayor and gubernatorial candidate told an audience of Placer County Democrats how he emerged as a political lightning rod for the same sex marriage issue.

But on this occasion, Newson's dad, county resident and retired state appellate justice William Newsom, was on hand to verify his son's story. In an interview, he also discussed his own difficult awakening on the issue.

Speaking to about 300 people at the Blue Goose Fruit Shed in Loomis, Newsom, the son, said he decided to do something about gay marriage after hearing President Bush declare his support for a national constitutional amendment to ban same-sex weddings.

He said he called his father in the historic Placer County mining town of Dutch Flat and described his plan to allow San Francisco City officials to marry a lesbian couple. Newson said he intended to grant a marriage license to Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, a couple of 51 years, to force a test case on the issue.

As the young mayor from the traditonal Irish Catholic family telephoned his father, Gavin Newsom said, he felt a chill from the other end of the call.

"When I called my Dad and said guess what we're doing?...I'm not sure that went over that well," Newsom told the Loomis crowd. "At least it didn't sound like it on the other side of the phone. It wasn't an easy thing to do."

In an interview, William Newsom, said he was indeed taken aback. He said his son challenged his personal beliefs - as well as those passed down by his late father, William Newsom Sr., a San Francisco developer, close confidant of former Gov. Pat Brown and devout Catholic.

"My mind was closed," William Newsom said in an interview. "I'm from an Irish Catholic family. My father was a bit nonplussed about this. And I was too."

But he said over the next year or so, his son changed his mind about gay marriage and he came to see it as a matter of equal rights.

"It took awhile," the elder Newsom said. "He changed my mind on it, not by arguing, but he made me think about it....I gradually came around to his point of view. I wasn't prepared for it. But over the last year or so, I've come fully on board."

Gavin Newsom told the crowd that he thought there would be only one same-sex marriage at San Francisco City Hall. The plan was for the city to then sue the state of California to overturn California's ban on gay weddings.

But in February and March of 2004, the city and county of San Francisco went on to issue marriage licenses to some 4,000 gay couples, drawing worldwide attention to the issue and triggering intense political and legal battles in California.

It was a tough sell in Dutch Flat, where William Newsom has lived since the early 1970s.

"A lot of folks are a little nervous about that son of Bill Newsom, that San Francisco mayor," Gavin Newsom said.

But the younger Newsom is a regular in the small Sierra town. After his parents divorced when he was child, he shuttled between his mother's home in Marin County and his father's house in Dutch Flat.

"The reality is that I grew up in Dutch Flat," Newsom said. "I grew up at Dingus McGee's restaurant. I grew up watching the 4th of July parade every year. If any of you haven't been to the 4th of July parade in Dutch Flat, you don't know what you're missing.

"And if you do miss the floats, don't worry because they go by about a dozen times. It's a pretty small town, and it's a pretty small parade."


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