A Tearful Republican Mayor Comes Out -- For the Freedom to Marry

05/25/2011 12:15 pm ET
  • Evan Wolfson President, Freedom to Marry; author, 'Why Marriage Matters'

A Republican from California stood up for the values he believes in -- fairness, equality, love, commitment -- and explained in a powerful, emotional press conference why he now has come to support the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.

No, it wasn't Arnold Schwarzenegger (yet), but the Governor of California should take a few notes from this extremely moving decision by a fellow California Republican politician, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders. Sanders, the former police chief now in charge of the eighth largest city in the United States, decided to take a stand for fairness even as he prepared to launch his campaign for re-election.

Mayor Sanders' change of heart shows us what happens when people think about how exclusion from marriage affects real people -- rather than just some abstract idea. Despite having said he would veto a City Council resolution joining San Diego to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the other major cities in California on a brief urging the state Supreme Court to strike down marriage discrimination, Mayor Sanders wrestled, as many Americans have, with the question anew, and came down on the side of justice.

Role-modeling how a political leader can explain such a courageous change of heart, Mayor Sanders explained:

I just could not bring myself to tell an entire group of people in our community that they were less important, less worthy and less deserving of the rights and responsibilities of marriage -- than anyone else -- simply because of their sexual orientation.

...The arrival of the resolution -- to sign or veto -- in my office late last night forced me to reflect and search my soul for the right thing to do. I have decided to lead with my heart -- to do what I think is right -- and to take a stand on behalf of equality and social justice. The right thing for me to do is to sign this resolution.

Two years ago, I believed that civil unions were a fair alternative. Those beliefs, in my case, have since changed. The concept of a "separate but equal" institution is not something that I can support.

San Diego now joins other California cities in calling on the Governor and Court to follow the lead of the state legislature, which a couple weeks ago again passed a bill to end marriage discrimination -- with even greater margins than in 2005. The bill has now gone to the Governor, who has said he would veto it as he did the last time.

The question now is does Governor Schwarzenegger have the courage and heart that his fellow Republican, Mayor Sanders, has shown?

To follow the example of Mayor Sanders and those around him who prompted his thinking anew and rise to fairness, we all can support the Let California Ring campaign of conversations that brings good people around, at a time when the freedom to marry is within reach in our nation's largest state.