San Diego mayor: Bias drove his gay marriage stand - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

San Diego mayor: Bias drove his gay marriage stand

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San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, center, speaks at a news conference next to his daughter Lisa in San Francisco on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010. San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, center, speaks at a news conference next to his daughter Lisa in San Francisco on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The mayor of San Diego testified Tuesday that he regretted opposing same-sex marriage before learning his daughter was a lesbian in a committed relationship.

Mayor Jerry Sanders said his change of heart was a defining personal moment.

"I had been prejudiced," he said during a civil trial on the constitutionality of California's ban on gay marriage. "I was saying one group of people did not deserve the same respect, did not deserve the same symbolism of marriage, and I was saying their marriages were less important than those of heterosexuals."

Sanders, a Republican, took the witness stand on behalf of two same-sex couples suing to overturn Proposition 8, the state's voter-approved ban.

Sanders recounted his last-minute decision in 2008 to sign a City Council resolution backing efforts to legalize same-sex marriage. The decision contradicted his public pledge to veto the resolution.

He was shown a videotape of the news conference where he broke down in tears while announcing the reasons for changing his mind.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who questioned Sanders, asked why he was so emotional on the video.

"I came very close to showing the prejudice I obviously had toward my daughter to my staff and to the people of San Diego," said Sanders, who choked up again recalling the episode.

Sanders now believes it's in the interest of government to support same-sex marriage. A former police chief, he cited examples of hate crimes against gays and of police officers being afraid to acknowledge they are gay.

"If government tolerates discrimination against anyone, it is very easy for citizens to do the same thing," he said.

Brian Raum, a lawyer for Proposition 8 sponsors, cross-examined the mayor about his past support for civil unions as an alternative to marriage.

Throughout the trial, backers of the ban have tried to show the ballot measure was not motivated by deep-seated bias toward gays. Such "animus" would make it more difficult for the measure to pass constitutional muster.

"You don't believe that you communicated hatred to the gay and lesbian community, did you?" Raum asked.

"I feel like my thoughts were grounded in prejudice, but I don't feel like I communicated hatred," Sanders said.

Raum also played a commercial produced by the Proposition 8 campaign claiming supporters were subjected to vandalism, slurs and physical violence during the 2008 election.

"You would agree that it's wrong for people to suffer violence as a result of their political views, would you not?" Raum asked.

"I would," Sanders agreed, adding he could not verify that supporters of the ban in San Diego experienced widespread harassment or if the ad was a campaign tactic.

Other testimony came from a University of Massachusetts at Amherst economist who said prohibiting same-sex marriages put gay couples at a financial disadvantage and would cost California $40 million over three years in tax revenue from weddings that could not take place.

Lee Badgett, who also directs research for a gay-related think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles, added that research showed gay couples preferred marriage to taking advantage of domestic partnership laws.

"Marriage is an institution that is recognized by many other people outside the couple, so it has that social validation," Badgett said.

Charles Cooper, another lawyer for Proposition 8 backers, countered that same number of couples registered as domestic partners in 2009 as 2008, even though same-sex marriage was legal in California during a four-month window before voters approved Proposition 8 in 2008.

"Do you believe these California same-sex couples chose domestic partnership over marriage because they felt these California domestic partnerships were second-rate?" Cooper asked Badgett.

"I don't know that these same-sex couples who got married also registered as domestic partners to hedge their bets against the election," Badgett replied.


Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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