State Senator Fumes Over Same-Sex Marriages

Times Staff Writer

In his fifth-floor office here in the California Capitol, surrounded by mementos from his career as a record-setting test pilot, state Sen. William “Pete” Knight was going ballistic over San Francisco’s same-sex marriages.

“A sham,” fumed Knight. “A sideshow.”

Four years ago, the Palmdale Republican was author and chief patron of the 14-word proposition, overwhelmingly approved by state voters, recognizing “only marriage between a man and a woman” as valid. For the last week, Knight has looked on with horror and rage as nearly 3,000 gay and lesbian couples defiantly tied the knot at San Francisco City Hall. Moreover, Knight’s well-funded advocacy organization, the Proposition 22 Defense and Education Fund, has so far been unsuccessful in its attempt to block the marriages in court.

Although furious with the courts, Knight’s anger is directed at San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who says same-sex marriages are a civil right protected by the state Constitution.

“He sure made a splash,” Knight said of Newsom. “He is known all over the country now. If that was his objective, he has accomplished it.”

But the events also touched closer to home. Two years ago, Knight’s son David, like him a former Air Force fighter pilot, exchanged vows with his partner during a Thanksgiving vacation in Vermont, which issues “civil union certificates” to same-sex couples.


“We got civil unionized as you can do in Vermont,” said David Knight’s partner, Joseph Lazzaro, in a telephone interview Thursday. He said the couple -- recently marking their 10th year together -- have discussed coming to San Francisco for a marriage license, although they have no immediate plans.

Lazzaro said the state senator has had only sporadic contact with his son over the last several years. “I remember a card one birthday, maybe a phone call,” Lazzaro said.

The 75-year-old Knight, a former X-15 test pilot who still holds the world speed record for fixed-wing aircraft, refuses to discuss his son’s domestic situation.

“It is not anybody’s business,” Knight said. “My family conditions are irrelevant.”

During the 1999 campaign for Proposition 22, the younger Knight wrote a public letter asking his father to reconsider his position on gay marriage.

Sitting in his office chair next to an ax handle labeled “Pete’s Attitude Adjuster” and photos of his illustrious flying career, the 5-foot-5 politician said he was troubled that the issue probably will be decided in the courts.

“This is the biggest public policy issue since slavery,” Knight said, his voice rising. “I don’t believe that the judges or the Legislature ought to be making that decision. It ought to be the people of the country deciding.”