San Diego mayor testifies about his reversal on gay marriage


After days of anti-Proposition 8 witnesses being described as liberal and activist, challengers of California’s gay marriage ban elicited testimony Tuesday from San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, a Republican and the city’s former police chief, who said his previous opposition to same-sex marriage stemmed from prejudice.

At the federal trial over Proposition 8, Sanders told the court that when his elder daughter, Lisa, now 26, was in college, she told him she was a lesbian. He said he expressed his “overwhelming love” for her but also had concerns she would face discrimination.

When he ran for mayor in 2005, Sanders said, he opposed same-sex marriage in favor of civil unions. Lisa worked in his campaign, wanted him to win and did not try to talk him out of his position, he said.


In 2007, the San Diego City Council passed a resolution calling on San Diego to file a friend-of-the-court brief in favor of San Francisco’s effort to overturn a ban on same-sex marriage. Sanders said he intended to veto the measure and called together gay friends and neighbors to explain why.

“I was absolutely shocked at the depth of the hurt, the depth of the feeling,” he testified.

Lawyers for the challengers of Proposition 8 played a video of Sanders crying as he told a news conference the next day that he had changed his mind about marriage for gays.

Sanders testified that he was emotional because he had come so close to sending a message that gay relationships were inferior to those between heterosexuals. “What hit me was that I had been prejudiced,” he said.

During cross-examination, an attorney defending Proposition 8 asked whether Sanders’ previous opposition to same-sex marriage stemmed from an animus against or moral disapproval of gays. Sanders said it had not, but “it doesn’t mean that I don’t believe it was grounded in prejudice.”