In her run for state controller, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin has reversed course -- again -- on same-sex marriage, telling a Republican group in Orange County last week that she supports marriage equality.
Kevin Gilhooley, president of the Log Cabin Republicans in Orange County, said that Swearengin spoke to almost three dozen members of the group on Sept. 22 in Costa Mesa. After her 20-minute talk -- which focused on her record of fiscal accomplishments in Fresno and her desire to take the same approach to the controller's office in Sacramento -- one of the members asked her about same-sex marriage.
"She told us, 'I support marriage equality,'" Gilhooley said. "That's what she said, verbatim. It was such a powerful statement for our group to hear, she got a great round of applause. We were very appreciative."
The remarks represents another turn-around in the mayor's position on same-sex marriage. In 2008, when she first ran for mayor, Swearengin said in a candidate forum that "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman" and declared her support for Proposition 8, a ballot measure to amend the California constitution to ban same-sex marriage. She acknowledged during the mayoral campaign that she had changed her position on the proposition, but said "my position (on marriage) has always been clear."
In response to inquiries from The Bee, Swearengin issued a statement Wednesday through a campaign spokesman explaining her remarks to the Log Cabin Republicans.
"As a supporter of Prop. 8 back in 2008, I recognize that the courts have overturned this measure, and that same-sex marriage is the law in our state," she said. "Like most Californians, I believe it is time to move beyond this issue and focus our public policy energies on addressing the mountain of debt and outstanding liabilities that threaten the financial future of the next generation."
Swearengin's campaign manager, Tim Clark, added that "her position has been consistent for years. It's fair to say she 'no longer opposes' same-sex marriage."
Swearengin elaborated on her written statement Wednesday in a late afternoon interview at her downtown Fresno campaign headquarters.
Same-sex marriage in California has been portrayed at various times as a legal, a moral, a religious, a political, an ideological and a cultural issue. In other words, it's hard to find a potentially more volatile topic for someone running for a statewide office than same-sex marriage.
Swearengin said there's nothing remotely controversial in her stance.
"It's the law of the land," Swearengin said, adding that she accepts that reality and wants to move forward with the people's business.
"My focus as a candidate for state controller is on the fiscal health of the state and the economic development of the state," Swearengin said. "As state controller, I wouldn't have any influence over this issue. But I am very concerned about the legacy of debt and outstanding obligations that we're leaving for our children and our grandchildren. I will do everything in my power to try address those two most important issues. That's what my campaign is about, and as mayor that's what I'm focused on as well."
It was suggested to Swearengin that modern politics in California has, for better or for worse, transcended the simple description of job duties. Many voters want to know where their candidates stand on the high-profile issues that affect their society.
The mayor was asked: Same-sex marriage -- is your stance born of obedience or conviction?
"Practically speaking, the state controller is, to me, focused on the two biggest issues in our state: the fiscal health of our state and whether or not we're doing what we can to support private sector job growth," Swearengin said. "I don't anticipate taking on issues outside of those two major struggles that we have in California. That's what my campaign has been all about. It's certainly what I focused on as mayor. I think people in California are ready to move forward past the Prop. 8 debate of 2008."
Whether supporters of Betty Yee, the other candidate in the controller's race, find the question of limited interest remains to be seen.
"While we welcome Ashley's support for marriage equality," said Matt Rogers, chairman of Fresno County Young Democrats, "Betty was there from day one."
Gilhooley said his organization -- of which he estimated 90% of members are gay or lesbian -- were pleased by Swearengin's comments. "With this, we're very happy that the top of the Republican ticket, Neel Kashkari running for governor and Ashley Swearengin running for controller, both supporting same-sex marriage," he said. "We're grateful that they're both on the right side of this issue. It makes us very proud as Republicans."