Republican San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and his gay daughter Lisa talked to reporters in San Francisco on Jan. 19 after the mayor testified in the federal trial seeking to overturn Proposition 8 as a violation of the U.S. Constitution. Here's some of what they had to say.
MAYOR SANDERS: I came as a Republican mayor, I came as a father and I came as a former police chief. And I came to say that we cannot tolerate discrimination against one group of people. ... I'm here with my daughter and I'm very proud of my daughter. But I was also honored to testify because I think this is an important issue for all Californians. Today was difficult at times because it required me to talk about the reasons I once believed civil unions were good enough for same-sex couples. And I think what that did was force me to think about why I'd done that. And I thought at the time it was an acceptable compromise. However, I have learned very clearly from people that are very involved that I was discriminating against them based on prejudicial arguments that I had. When I said that civil unions were enough, I was saying that the relationship that my daughter has with [her partner] Meaghan, I was saying that that wasn't as important, that wasn't as significant as the marriage that I have to my wife. And I was wrong about that, and I think that that's one of the things that I wanted to make sure that people understood today. I also think that the city of San Diego ... has a strong interest in marriage equality.
I know that one of the things that I saw today and one of the things that probably you saw is that the other side would like us to think that all of a sudden the Yes people are being discriminated against and there's violence against them. I have to tell you, as a police officer for over 26 years, as a mayor, that is not what I've seen. I have seen violence against gays and lesbians in the community, I've seen hate crimes, I've seen people beat to death, I've seen people almost beat to death, and never has that been somebody that was for Yes on Proposition 8. Instead, it's always been the gay and lesbian community that's felt the brunt of hate crimes.
Before I became mayor I spent 26 years on the San Diego Police Department, and I'm very proud of the career that I had, and I witnessed, in the early years, discrimination in both the department and the city and, as I've said, I've seen discrimination and hate crimes occur in the city of San Diego.
I think denying marriage equality is just as wrong as telling blacks that they couldn't use white-only drinking fountains. It's government action that's founded in prejudice. The first step towards equality in society is equality under the law. So, I'm proud to say that my daughter Lisa got married to her wife Meaghan in Vermont last month. I'm very proud of both of them and I only wish that she could be recognized as equal under California law. Hopefully the court will do the right thing so that loving couples like Lisa and Meaghan don't have to travel 3,000 miles to get their marriage license -- away from family, away from friends and away from coworkers.
LISA SANDERS: This has been an amazing experience. Today I was very proud-- it was a very emotional day -- very proud of my father for what he has done to contribute to the movement of equal rights. My Dad is a Republican and everyone told my Dad during his re-election campaign if he signed the resolution to support marriage equality that he'd probably be a one-term mayor. I even told him it'd be OK with me if he vetoed the resolution. I told him it was more important that he be mayor of San Diego. But ultimately he realized the support of marriage equality was consistent with his core values, which included treating every community with the same respect and dignity. Yes, it did hurt his campaign at first, but at the end, the people of San Diego realized what I had always knew -- nobody could be a better mayor than my father and nobody could be a better father.
MAYOR SANDERS: This is an emotional issue. As I said, I've cried in public a lot. This is an issue where I almost made a mistake that I probably couldn't have lived with. ... I realized that I was being protected by my daughter, instead of me protecting her, and that I was close to making the wrong decision. ...
I don't think you can say to one group of people simply because of skin color, because of sexual orientation or anything else, "We're not going to allow you to have the same rights as everybody else." And I think what happens when you take rights away from people as a public official, then you tolerate discrimination and that goes on to the community and that's used in a lot of different ways, including violence, including disregard for people's rights, including discrimination. ...
We need to boil this down to people instead of man and woman and everything else. We have two people who have a loving, caring relationship, who can have a family, who can do all the same things that a married couple have, and yet we have said, "Since you're not heterosexual, we're not going to recognize you as being as important as heterosexual relationships." I think that's fundamentally discriminatory and I think that's wrong.
My daughter was willing to give me a pass on all of this. It was a group of community members that I talked to that expressed -- there was no politics in this at all; this was raw emotion that they felt -- neighbors who said, "We have pushed our baby carriage down the street and you've come out and talked to our children and talked to us; you see we're just like you." Others said, "We're a family just like you are and our children need to be able to say, 'We've got parents who are married.'"
When I saw the harm that's caused by treating them differently than heterosexual couples, I think that that was a compelling moment for me.