How much should the news media care that District 5 City Councilmember Carl DeMaio refuses to speak out on Proposition 8?
The voter-approved initiative, which changed the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, is one of the most fiercely debated political issues in California. Within San Diego’s large and politically active gay and lesbian community, it’s arguably the issue of our time. Nonetheless, DeMaio has steadfastly refused to speak out for or against the law.
That in itself might not be the stuff of journalistic debate—elected officials can’t be expected to take a stance on everything. But DeMaio isn’t just any elected official when it comes to Prop 8: He’s an openly gay Republican elected official, and that’s prompted more than a couple of journalists to ask him where he stands on a law that’s as overwhelmingly opposed by gays as it’s supported by Republicans. Every time, he’s begged off the question.
“The city faces the greatest financial crisis in its history—that is Councilmember DeMaio’s focus,” replied Erica Mendelson, DeMaio’s spokesperson, in an e-mail when CityBeat popped the question.
So far, DeMaio’s silence on Prop. 8 has been met by equal silence by the mainstream media. No editorials criticizing the council member’s non-stance, no hectoring by reporters at news conferences to try to pin him down on the issue.
Should the media hold DeMaio’s feet to the fire for refusing to speak out on Proposition 8? Or should they accept his silence and move on?
“DeMaio certainly has a right to simply keep quiet on it,” says Martin Kruming, an instructor of media law at San Diego State University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies. “But does he have a responsibility as an elected public official to comment on an issue that affects a great many people? What separates Mr. DeMaio from you and me, I think, is his position on the issues. With regard to the media’s role in raising the issue of why DeMaio won’t comment, I think that’s fair game.”
Not surprisingly, Jess Durfee, chairman of the San Diego County Democratic Party, agrees.
“DeMaio can’t be gay part of the time,” says Durfee, who’s openly gay himself. “He’s either part of the gay community or he’s not, and if he’s part of it, this is a paramount issue to the gay community, and he should say he’s with us or not. If he’s going to sit this one out, he should not be showing up at the [San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community] Center, and he should not be showing up to LGBT events acting like he wants to be embraced by the gay community when he’s not ready to lead on an issue that’s critical to the community.”
Neither officials with the San Diego County Republican Party nor Ron Nehring, chairman of the California Republican Party and former San Diego County resident, responded to calls for comment by press time. But Randy Hope, editor of the San Diego-based Gay & Lesbian Times newspaper, did.
“We at the paper do believe that DeMaio should answer the question,” Hope says. “If we took the word ‘gay’ out of the scenario and replaced with any other ethnic group—if, say, DeMaio were Asian and there was a measure not allowing Asians to marry—we would expect him to be held to the same accountability.”