Whether you call it a process or evolution, we have a long way to go.
Just how much further we must go became evident the other day as Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and I walked out of the Capitol.
Villaraigosa was in town to urge that the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee begin to overhaul parts of Proposition 13 that grant property tax breaks to corporations and large commercial land owners.
As consequential as that issue is, Villaraigosa works on many tasks, including his new role as chairman of the Democratic National Convention, to be held in September in Charlotte, N.C. Within days of his appointment, he made headlines by telling Beltway journalists that the 2012 Democratic Party platform ought to embrace same-sex marriage.
Villaraigosa's comments quickly set off chatter that he was placing President Barack Obama in a tough spot, especially in the battleground state of North Carolina, where voters in May will decide on a ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage.
The president stops short of supporting same-sex marriage, claiming his position is "evolving," a clever phrase that means he is dodging an issue that could cost him votes in swing states.
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told reporters last week that Obama "has a great record on fighting for fundamental fairness for all Americans," and proceeded to duck the issue of what the platform might say about same-sex marriage.
"There's not even a delegate platform committee yet," Messina said.
"There's a process to go through this discussion and the DNC will go through that and we will have a platform."
Villaraigosa's stand is not new. When we met back in 1995, his first year in the California Assembly, he was enthusiastically, energetically and, yes, severely liberal. He arrived at a time when Republicans controlled the lower house. But the very first bill he introduced sought to jack up income taxes on the wealthiest Californians.
He carried legislation to expand health care, crack down on banks, and regulate guns when some California Democrats still feared the power of the National Rifle Association. And he was an early promoter of gay rights.
His bills died quickly in that first term. But after Democrats retook the lower house, and he later became Assembly speaker, he saw to it that several gay rights measures became law.
In his personal life, Villaraigosa is flawed. In his political life, he has crossed old friends. But on basic civil rights issues, he has been solid.
As Democratic National Convention chairman, Villaraigosa won't control the platform. "It is up to the delegates of the Democratic Party to draft the Democratic Party platform," he said.
But his voice is significant.
"Our delegates will put the platform together and I suspect it will be very inclusive," he said. "This is an issue that the convention delegates will focus on. I made clear what my position is."
Villaraigosa understands that gay rights issues split society. He also knows the divide is wide over questions of race, racism and immigration. That all came into focus, jarringly, as he and I were leaving the Capitol, and a middle-aged man wearing jeans and a T-shirt was entering.
"Go back to Mexico," the man said as he walked past Villaraigosa.
What? Yes, we all heard the same thing.
Here is the twice-elected mayor of the nation's second largest city, a former Assembly speaker, and a man who will stand on a national stage this September in North Carolina.
And a guy who had never met nor spoken with Villaraigosa told him to go back to Mexico, as if this proud graduate of Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles and UCLA ever lived south of the border.
Villaraigosa flashed his Hollywood smile, laughed it off, and kept on walking. I went back into the Capitol to find the guy, who, as it turned out, was heading to the same Revenue and Taxation hearing that Villaraigosa was leaving.
Do you say that mayors to all the time? I asked.
"Eh, he is a pissant," the man said, proceeding to spew about how an "illegal alien" killed the son of a friend down in L.A., and how it was Villaraigosa's fault. "He is a Mexican. That is what he claims. He is always defending illegal Mexicans and Mexico. I have no qualms about saying anything to him."
The fellow's name is Davi Rodrigues. From where? "Right here in Sac," he said. "I'm an American. Period."
As Davi Rodrigues, American-Period made clear, Darwinism is a process. We haven't arrived. As for same-sex marriage, the president of the United States should follow the mayor of Los Angeles, stop the silly word games, and use the power of his position to urge that the nation move beyond its history of bigotry and discrimination to a higher realm.
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