Republican Assemblyman William J. "Pete" Knight, author of a bill that would have barred California from recognizing gay marriages performed in other states, said Tuesday that one of his sons is a homosexual.
The conservative Antelope Valley lawmaker issued a statement disclosing the sexual orientation of his middle son, David, after being informed that a Bay Area weekly was about to write an article saying that the 35-year-old Baltimore businessman is gay.
In an interview Tuesday, Knight (R-Palmdale) also acknowledged having a gay younger brother who died last summer at 60 of complications of AIDS.
Given the circumstances surrounding the bill, Knight said he was not surprised by the call Monday from reporter George Cothran of the San Francisco Weekly. Knight had a prepared statement ready.
"I knew it would come out sooner or later," Knight said.
Cothran said that before writing the story he talked to Knight's son, who assured the paper he was "completely out of the closet in Baltimore. . . . That eradicated our concern about impinging on his privacy or adversely affecting his life."
David Knight could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Rumors about Knight's son had swirled throughout the state Capitol this summer during the highly charged debate about the legitimacy of gay marriage.
Opponents of the bill knew about Knight's son and had solicited his help in their battle with his father.
"We were aware that Pete Knight had a gay son and we had been using every means at our disposal to have him [go public in California] to bring to light the hypocrisy of Pete Knight, somebody who claims to be protecting society by sponsoring such a bill," said Jim Key, a spokesman for the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center.
But the son was reluctant, Key said.
After a tumultuous legislative course, involving hostile amendments and other procedural maneuvers, Knight's bill ultimately died in the Legislature.
Knight said he has known about his son's sexual orientation for 1 1/2 years. David Knight lives with his partner, whom the lawmaker said he has never met.
The assemblyman, a former test pilot who is heavily favored to win election to the state Senate in November, acknowledged some difficulty in accepting the news that his son was gay.
"It is hard to deal with," Knight said. "But if it's one of your children, you accept it. . . . It's his life."
David is one of seven children in the Knight family.
Of his younger brother who died of AIDS, Knight said simply, "We never talked about it."
Knight said there was no conflict between the legislation he sponsored and accepting his gay son.
The bill, Knight said, is needed to prevent California from accepting gay marriages deemed legal in another state without a policy debate on the merits of changing what he calls "the cornerstone of our society from time immemorial"--marriage between a man and a woman.
"It's not a gay marriage issue," Knight said. "They're trying to redefine marriage, and I don't think we should redefine marriage based on a few judges in Hawaii."
He was referring to a test case in Hawaii in which three judges have deemed a gay marriage legal. California has a reciprocal agreement, which would make the union automatically legal here.
Knight said careful consideration must be given before "taking man and woman out of the definition of marriage and defining it as a feel-good commitment."
But Key said the underlying issue is homophobia--and Knight's rejection of his son's sexual orientation.
"There's no question at all this is completely rooted in homophobia," Key said.