According to an announcement by the Californians Against Hate campaign, a handful of protesters demonstrated Saturday at the Rancho Santa Fe home of attorney Charles LiMandri, where, reportedly, a fund-raiser was being held for the Yes on 8 campaign. Proposition 8 would amend the state Constitution to eliminate the right of gay couples to marry.
Along with the announcement came a “fact sheet” that included quotations from prominent Republicans. There were quotes from Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger and former San Diego County legislator Clair Burgener. And then there was Mayor Jerry Sanders.
The Sanders quote was from his emotional Sept. 20, 2007, press conference announcing his sudden favor for a City Council resolution supporting equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians. Boiled down, Sanders, whose daughter is gay, said he was unwilling to send the message that other loving couples shouldn't share the same rights that he and his wife Rana Sampson enjoy.
It was an about-face from his previous stance, expressed during his first campaign for the Mayor's office in 2005. During his 2007 press conference and subsequent meeting with reporters, Sanders' eyes were puffy and red. It was a moving, transformative moment in his personal and political life, occurring in the face of conventional wisdom that said Republicans can't be for equal rights for gay couples and politically successful at the same time, at least not anywhere other than San Francisco and Los Angeles.
It was an act of political bravery, certainly, but considering his daughter's sexual orientation, it was also morally imperative. To oppose the City Council's resolution would have been cold, mean and selfish.
We don't know if Sanders considered the possibility that his words that day would be used a year later as a weapon in the fight against a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, but the mayor should embrace the reality and advance his role from passive involvement in the campaign to active. He should stand with No on 8 campaign leaders in press conferences and provide political cover for moderate Republicans who are quietly in favor of equal rights for everyone under the law.
He should note the reality that it's only a matter of time before only the bigoted fringes of the populace remain against same-sex marriage.
On Page 11 of this issue of CityBeat, activist and former state legislator Tom Hayden writes about the social movements of the past—abolitionism, women's suffrage, workers' unions, civil rights for black Americans—in the context of the present presidential election. Well, we're in the midst of another social movement, and it's on the verge of success.
On May 28, 2008, The Field Poll announced that for the first time in 30 years of polling on the issue, public opinion in California had shifted over to the side of support for equal marriage rights. In 1977, Field reported, only 28 percent of Californians supported gay marriage. That figure increased to 30 percent in 1985, then to 38 percent in 1997, and then to 44 percent in 2004. In this year's poll, the number was 51 percent, compared with 42 percent in opposition. That gap will only increase. Intolerance is dying off, and acceptance is on the rise—and where California leads, the rest of the nation will follow.
Steve Francis, Sanders' unsuccessful challenger in the June election, told CityBeat in an interview that he doesn't support equal marriage rights because public opinion just isn't there yet. He was wrong. And Sanders has the opportunity to be right.
Lest we get too far ahead of ourselves, Republicans remain overwhelmingly opposed to gay marriage, by a count of 69 percent to 25 percent. But 61 percent of independents favor it, compared with 27 percent who don't. We think that means socially liberal Republicans more and more will abandon the party position on this issue, leaving the religious right alone in the margins of society. In the most telling statistic, Californians between the ages of 18 and 29 favor equal rights by a count of 68 percent to 25 percent—they're not all Democrats.
We urge Sanders to get out in front. For him, the hard part is over. He bucked party ideology right before an election. The next step—becoming an active leader in the civil-rights issue of our time—is easy. Sanders is a man of modest goals; he simply wants to guide San Diego back into financial solvency. But he has the chance to be part of a bigger, more important legacy, and he should seize it.
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