Gavin Newsom's fervent support for gay marriage once made him a controversial figure even among fellow Democrats.
As San Francisco mayor, Newsom in 2004 directed the city-county clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples - in violation of state law at the time.
Political allies doubted the wisdom of the headline-grabbing move by the newly-minted mayor. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) mused that Newsom might have helped cost Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry the 2004 election by moving so quickly on gay marriage. And earlier in 2004 Illinois Democratic Senate candidate Barack Obama of Illinois, in San Francisco for a fund-raiser, reportedly asked not to have his picture taken with Newsom.
Fast forward a decade and history has largely vindicated Newson. Now lieutenant governor - elected statewide in 2010 after seven years as mayor - Newsom looks prophetic in his statement, "This door's wide open now. It's going to happen, whether you like it or not."
Those words were actually used against gay marriage supporters in 2008, when California voters approved Proposition 208, reversing a California Supreme Court ruling that there was a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. A television ad by supporters of the ballot initiative replayed the Newsom clip repeatedly. Polls shifted in favor of Proposition 8 following the release of the commercial. Newsom may have unwittingly played a role in the passage of the amendment.
Shifting Public Opinion
But public opinion on gay marriage was shifting rapidly - in favor of Newsom's side. In ensuing years a number of states legalized gay marriage.
Then in June 2013 the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The Court declared that same-sex couples who are legally married deserve equal rights to the benefits under federal law that go to all other married couples.
The decision was a landmark win for the gay rights movement. It voided a section of the law known as DOMA, which was adopted with bipartisan support in Congress in 1996 to deny all benefits and recognition to same-sex couples.
At that time, no state permitted gays and lesbians to marry. By the time of the ruling, 12 states and the District of Columbia authorized same-sex marriages.
Since then federal judges have struck down five state gay marriage bans, including in deeply culturally conservatives places like Utah and Oklahoma. Legal analysts suggest the Supreme Court will soon have to revisit the issue, essentially going on record about whether gay marriage is a federal, constitutional right.
"Public opinion in 1967 was strongly against interracial marriage, while most polls show that a rapidly growing majority of Americans support same-sex marriage," New York Times Supreme Court correspondent Adam Liptak wrote.
Liptak noted a recent joint appearance by Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. "'She has been critical of certain cases, most notably Roe v. Wade, for having ruled too expansively and too quickly,' Justice Kagan said of Justice Ginsburg, who listened attentively. 'But she has also recognized that when the time is right courts can play an important role in ratifying society's progress.'"
Such a ruling would be further political vindication for Newsom. And it wouldn't likely hurt his political prospects, either. Newsom is seeking reelection as lieutenant governor in 2014. And he's considered a leading gubernatorial candidate for 2018, after which Gov. Jerry Brown, a fellow Democrat, will have to leave office due to term limits.