John Leo

Many public officials around the country seem to have contracted the San Francisco Disease, or SFD. This is the highly contagious ailment that convinces the stricken that it's all right to ignore laws they disagree with. Even California bureaucrats who visit the city for only an hour or two are apt to contract SFD and go around marrying gay couples or applying racial quotas, though state law explicitly forbids both. In California, voters approved propositions on these issues, and such propositions trump everything, even votes in the Legislature. But once the fever of SFD descends, officials listlessly lose interest in laws that conflict with their personal beliefs. Among the afflicted who declined to stop the illegal marriages were two judges and California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who has probably suffered more cruelly from SFD than any other living Californian.

Last week's nationwide outbreak of SFD is strikingly similar to the fevers of MRD, or Massive Resistance Disease, that afflicted George Wallace and so many other white officials who fought desegregation in the Deep South. Medical experts say SFD sufferers look very much like normal Americans, but one telltale symptom is always present: The patient vehemently denies that SFD has anything to do with MRD, since the motives behind the two forms of official resistance are different, with SFD exempt from criticism because it is progressive and approved by some big-city newspapers. Once the patient starts talking that way, doctors find, rational discussion must be broken off or further delirium may occur.

Though there is no known cure for SFD, experts are striving to find ways to prevent future suffering. While combing through the many records of SFD sufferers in New York State, researchers made a promising discovery. They located a public official who apparently has a natural immunity--Ulster County District Attorney Donald Williams. Despite the current plague, Williams remained clearheaded enough to figure out that you can't legally marry people who don't have a marriage license. This insight, which then dawned slowly on several other New Yorkers, led Williams to take action. He hauled into court SFD victim Jason West, mayor of the upstate town of New Paltz, and charged him with 19 criminal counts for solemnizing marriages without a license. No clerk in New Paltz supported granting a marriage license to gay couples, but West, a 26-year-old Green Party member, married the gay couples anyway and said he would keep doing it. A second New York State mayor, John Shields of Nyack, said he planned to marry gay couples too. He intends to marry a same-sex partner himself.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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