BUSH'S WATERLOO? Is San Francisco's mayor tilting at windmills? We don't think so. Saying he believes that the California constitution supports equal rights for everyone, Gavin Newsom, the newly elected mayor of San Francisco, began handing out marriage licenses to same-sex couples two weeks ago. So far, more than 3000 couples have been legally married.

But his humane action has infuriated conservatives. It has also set in motion legal battles in California, as well as triggered a national legislative debate. Although same-sex marriages don't currently have widespread support (two-thirds of Americans oppose them), now is the time for education and to push for full and equal rights for same-sex couples.

On Tuesday morning, President Bush stood in the White House's Roosevelt Room and called for Congress to approve an amendment to the Constitution that would ban same-sex marriage--an idea that's been floating around the U.S. capitol for the past few months since state representative Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO) introduced the bill in October.

Since the end of the Civil War, the constitution has been amended several times to afford more rights for specific demographics--voting rights for women and equal rights protections for ethnic minorities. But the constitution has never been amended to deny privileges for a specific group. President Bush is pushing same-sex couples to the back of the chapel (or, for that matter, out into the street) in the very same way other presidents upheld laws that downgraded African Americans and other minorities to the status of lesser citizens. History does not reflect well on these presidents; President Bush could also go down in the books as a bigot.

But the pressing question is, what can those of us in Portland do now? Yes, we can write to our legislator and ask him not to support same-sex marriage bans. But we must also take a proactive approach. The Civil Rights movement in the '60s only gained equality for all ethnic groups by sticking their noses where they weren't welcome. They won by pushing forward an agenda, not by playing defense. Already, four ballot initiatives have been proposed to define marriage in Oregon as between only a man and a woman. Why hasn't even one initiative been filed to define marriage as open to all Oregonians?

On Sunday, March 7, the Mercury will sponsor a community forum (and dance party) to begin signing petitions and lobbying for legislation to legalize same-sex marriages. Look for more information next week. PHIL BUSSE