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San Diego mayor cites 'prejudice' in earlier opposition to gay marriage

January 19, 2010 |  1:32 pm

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, a Republican, the city's former police chief and the father of a lesbian, testified at a federal trial today his previous opposition to marriage rights for gays was based on "prejudice."

During emotional testimony at the federal trial over Proposition 8, Sanders told the court that his elder daughter, Lisa, now 26, told him she was a lesbian when she was in college. He said he expressed his "overwhelming love" for her but also warned her that she would face discrimination.

"I thought it was very tough on gay couples in society," Sanders said.

When he ran for mayor in 2005, Sanders said he opposed same-sex marriage and favored civil unions instead. He said his daughter worked on his campaign, wanted him to win the election and accepted his view.

In 2007, the city council passed a resolution calling on San Diego to file a friend-of-the-court brief in litigation to support overturning the state's ban on gay marriage. Sanders said he intended to veto the measure and called together gay and lesbian friends and neighbors to explain his decision.

"I was absolutely shocked at the depth of the hurt, the depth of the feeling…," Sanders testified. He said one of his gay neighbors who had children told him: "We are a family just like you're a family."

Sanders gave an emotional news conference the next day to explain why he had changed his mind. He testified that he was emotional because he had come so close to taking an action that he now believes would have hurt many.

"What hit me was that I had been prejudiced," he said.

He also testified that his daughter and her former partner married in Vermont in September.

"It made me feel pretty bad that they had to go across the country," Sanders said.

During cross-examination, an attorney defending Proposition 8 tried to show that gays and lesbians suffer far less prejudice than they did historically and noted that San Diego has elected several openly gay officials.

The Proposition 8 challengers contend the measure stemmed from moral disapproval of gays and animus. Sanders was asked if he morally disapproved of gays and felt animus when he believed civil unions were appropriate alternatives to marriage.

He said no, but added: "It doesn't mean that I don't believe it was grounded in prejudice."

-- Maura Dolan