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Mayor Jerry Sanders Testifies in Prop. 8 Trial

Video unavailable. Read transcript below.

Video published January 22, 2010 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: Why did San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders testify in a federal trial examining the constitutionality of the California's same-sex marriage ban? We speak to a staff writer from the San Diego Union-Tribune who covered the story.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): This week, Mayor Jerry Sanders made national headlines with his role in the Prop 8 trial underway in federal court in San Francisco. Sanders said he didn’t think it was unusual for a Republican or a police chief to stick up for people who have had their rights taken away. Joining me now to discuss the mayor’s testimony and the public response is Craig Gustafson. He is a staff writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Thank you for coming, Craig.

CRAIG GUSTAFSON (San Diego Union-Tribune): Thanks for having me.

PENNER: Alright, let’s set the stage. What's the court case all about?

GUSTAFSON: Well, it’s really a landmark case because it’s the first federal trial about same-sex marriage, and in particular, it’s to overturn the ban that was passed by voters in 2008.

PENNER: Right. And so what's the mayor’s role in it?

GUSTAFSON: Well the mayor is almost the perfect person to testify on behalf of people in support of same-sex marriage because he is three things: he’s the mayor, he’s a Republican, and he’s a former police chief. And there’re not too many people with that background. And especially with that background who are so outspoken about same-sex marriage. I mean, he has a very personal and compelling story to tell and they wanted to get that on the record before the judge.

PENNER: This is a story that’s changed though. I mean, he wasn’t always an advocate for same-sex marriage, was he?

GUSTAFSON: No, he was a supporter of civil unions for a long time. When he ran for mayor in 2005, that’s what he was in support of. He didn’t believe in same-sex marriage, but obviously he had a very personal story with his daughter who is a lesbian. And he gave a press conference in 2007 where he changed his mind. A very tearful press conference, he was very emotional. And it turned into a YouTube sensation. People were watching it and he got praise from all over the world for changing his position, because he’s such a person of prominence in Southern California.

PENNER: In Southern California, but the national attention kind of mystifies me. Why did his court appearance attract all this national media attention?

GUSTAFSON: Well, just because of who he is and because of that YouTube video. Specifically for this case though, his testimony is important because he is a former police chief and he has a certain cache and he has that experience. He saw many things – and he discussed them during his testimony – throughout his career, his professional and personal life. And I think that carried a lot of weight. At least, the pro-marriage lawyers felt that it carried a lot of weight in the case.

PENNER: You know, I wonder how difficult it was for him to decide to agree to testify. I mean, after all, this would really establish what he believed in for the world. What was his reason for testifying?

GUSTAFSON: Well, ever since he made that decision to support same-sex marriage he’s been at vigils, he's been at rallies in support of it. I mean, he's really been at the forefront. And he told me in an interview after the testimony that this is really a personal thing for him. And as a police chief and a Republican he feels like those two things, you know, you should stand up for people who are having their rights taken away from them. And he said once he made that decision, it was something he couldn’t turn his back on anymore and he had to move forward with it and push for it.

PENNER: So is that the essence of his testimony? That there's a group of people that would have their rights taken away from them? Didn’t he also talk about those people who supported Prop 8 being prejudiced?

GUSTAFSON: Absolutely, and that was probably the biggest point that the pro-gay marriage lawyers were trying to make with his testimony. You know, he said I made that decision to support civil union out of prejudice. I was prejudiced against gay couples – that was his testimony that he gave – and he said I believe anybody who supports a ban on same-sex marriage is doing it based on prejudice. He said not on hatred, necessarily, but based on prejudice. And he said when he made the decision to change his mind, it was something that he felt he was making a bad decision by supporting civil unions for many years.

PENNER: So basically he's calling a lot of his Republican supporters and colleagues bigots because many of them are opposed to same-sex marriage. How have they responded to this?

GUSTAFSON: Well I don't know if he would use the word bigot, but –

PENNER: Well it’s synonymous, really, with one who is prejudiced.

GUSTAFSON: Sure. But obviously the Republican Party wasn’t happy when he made the decision to change his mind in 2007. And they are not happy that he continues to speak out in favor of same sex marriage. And basically, the Republican Party chair told me this week that he just wishes the mayor would stop talking about it and focus on the city’s financial problems.

PENNER: Well thank you very much, Craig Gustafson.

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