Jerry Sanders fights for marriage equalityAround the City Thursday, February 9th, 2012
In light of this week’s decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a lower court’s ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional, San Diego LGBT Weekly presents a Q&A with one of the nation’s most fervent advocates for marriage equality, San Diego’s own Mayor Jerry Sanders.
San Diego LGBT Weekly: Mayor, do you know that, in the minds of many LGBT San Diegans, you’re almost a candidate for beatification?
San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders: (Laughs) I’ve been educated and supported by the (LGBT) community for a long time. It’s a community that has always been very responsive and appreciative when I’ve been fortunate enough to make a difference in their lives.
But things weren’t always the way they are today.
There was a time when the relationship with police especially wasn’t good. When I was police chief and before that, I was always in the Gay Pride parade. At first, we thought we wouldn’t be supported and would encounter hostility, but we soon found just the opposite to be the response. We got the most applause and appreciation in those events (than others).
So that experience began your conversion from what I assume was a traditional conservative position opposing LGBT equality in areas such as marriage?
That and when we had officers starting to come out. It felt good that they felt they could do so relatively safely.
Yours and the work of your fellow mayors with Freedom to Marry is pretty groundbreaking. Do you have the sense that you’re making history as we speak?
You guys did all the work. You’ve already made the decisions and done all the very hard things as members of the gay community. I’m just tagging along, trying to do the right thing.
How exactly did you change your mind about marriage equality?
I think it’s something that is near and dear to my heart. It took me a while to come to the right position, but I don’t think you can say we have something for one group of people and another thing for this group of people.
But was it your daughter’s coming out that made the difference?
I take great pleasure in my daughter and her wife and their family. But it was really my wife who got me to think hard about where I stood.
Was there opposition in your family to your coming out in support of same-sex marriage?
I think at first it was divergent as far as our extended family’s opinions about it. We have some pretty conservative people in the family, and they weren’t happy with my decision. But I think they’ve grown since then. Republicans have always said they’re a party of family values and now they have an opportunity to show that. Family values means loving your children and supporting your family.
So, it’s kind of ironic that you – Republican mayor in a somewhat conservative region of the state – have evolved, as President Obama would put it, to become an advocate for our cause, while he is still “evolving.”
There are some differences. I’m not running for anything ever again. At some point, you have to say what’s right’s right. I was being counseled to be kind of cute and say that civil unions were a good solution to the marriage question. But my wife and I finally decided that that wasn’t the same as marriage. I came home one night and my wife asked me a simple question: Did I really think that relationships such as the one my daughter and (her wife) Meaghan share is less deserving of marriage than ours? And the answer was clear – no, I didn’t. That’s what changed my position.
What happened then?
I got support from members of my family who weren’t always that open minded. Then people started coming out in much larger numbers. When you see people whom you know come out; then it’s not some statistic.
What’s next for you as far as Mayors for the Freedom to Marry?
I’m going back to D.C. to a couple of conferences, and we’ve got some opportunities for people to get involved coming up, that we’re working on now.
Was there resistance among members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors to Freedom to Marry?
You get all the politics at the Conference of Mayors, but I think (New York Mayor Michael) Bloomberg was really good and persuasive by saying this is also an economic issue.
Has your change of mind inspired others to reconsider their opinions about LGBT people?
I see a lot of people who say it has helped change their minds too. I can’t tell you how good it felt when a local resident at Starbucks told me, “I felt all alone when my child said, ‘Dad I’m gay,’ but when I heard about your family and saw you say it’s OK to be gay, I felt I wasn’t alone.” That made it somehow OK to him to embrace his daughter for who she was. My daughter had one friend who had been basically kicked out of the house. The father said we can’t have that in our house, but after I made my announcement about the need to love our gay and lesbian children and to support marriage equality, he changed his mind.
What are three things we can do to help you advocate for same-sex marriage and LGBT rights?
One: By coming out. I recognize it’s not easy, and I wouldn’t presume to tell an individual he or she should come out, but the more that happens the more people will be accepting. Two: By simply educating people; and three, by having patience – with limits, of course.
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