The sunset rally celebrating the defeat of Proposition 8 at the San Diego LGBT Center, known simply as "The Center," was impressive. Hundreds showed up with banners and signs, wedding cake was dished out by the plateful, and though we all understand this may be temporary--it was a night for celebration!
The fight around Proposition 8, California's constitutional ban on marriage equality, which was voted into law in November 2008, has deep roots in San Diego.
The city is the second largest city in California behind Los Angeles with one of the highest populations of queer people in any US city, but it is also fiercely militaristic because of our large Naval and Marine bases. Add to that the fact that we have multiple mega churches in the area, not the least of which are several Mormon temples. Hence, it is quite conservative here and most conservatives like marriage as do many conservative queers. One person attending the rally chortled, "Us queers in San Diego, we come here to live our lives, to settle down, this is what we do here."
Knowing all this, it was not a surprise that the protest rally in San Diego after the passage of Proposition 8 in November 2008 was the largest in California with estimates topping out at 25,000 protesters. Indeed, many of the people around here vividly understood that its passage was absolutely possible, if not probable.
It was here in San Diego and what is referred to not so lovingly as "East County" (the dusty ex-burbs) that the Mormons and their very married minions were organizing to remove our rights to marry in California as captured in the newly released documentary "The Mormon Proposition." Though Mormons make up a mere 2% of Californians they funded 71% of the effort going towards the passage of Proposition 8, reports "The Mormon Proposition."
The birthplace of Prop. 8 was Southern California, so given this history it was as sweet as wedding-cake-icing to attend the celebration of Proposition 8 being struck down at the Center. Republican Mayor Jerry Sanders gave a touching speech just after sunset to the large crowd assembled at there.
Mayor Sanders was initially opposed to marriage equality when running for mayor. In an August 2008 press conference announcing that he would sign a San Diego City Council resolution in support of marriage equality, he explained his change of heart in a tearful speech. Indeed he has come a long way on the topic and remains one of our strongest political advocates. His speech given at what hopefully amounts to the sunset of Prop. 8 gave voice to the change that is occurring, person by person, around the country on this issue:
"I just wanted to talk just for a couple of seconds about what I think is important about tonight. Number one, it's about each of you and I want to congratulate each of you. And I want to thank you for your courage. I know it's not easy to come out. I know it's not easy to talk to your family. I know many of your families have turned their backs on you. It has been your courage that has gotten us to this point. It has been your courage that has lead me to this point.
"And I talked about it inside, that I was here for a debate in 2005 for the mayor's campaign. And I know I irritated a lot of people with my position, and as a young politician even though in an old body [laughter], I was trying to learn how to do the dance and for that I apologize because I made the wrong decision [cheering!].
And I want to thank each of you for helping me to make the right decision and there's been a lot of leaders in that and Delores Jacobs from The Center, and Toni Atkins and my wife Rana and my family have been tremendously helpful in helping me to understand that what I once thought was equal was literally discriminatory. And I want to thank Judge Walker today and I want to thank the San Francisco City Attorney's Office for allowing me to testify in the trial [cheers!] and for allowing me to be part of the history that we're all sharing today.
"Each generation has an opportunity. Each generation finds something that's been wrong for a long time. Each generation finds discrimination in one form or another. And all of us out here today, every single one of us, can say that we've been part of helping to solve that discrimination in the United States. And I just want to thank each of you for doing that [cheers!].
"And finally, as I look out there, not one of you threatens the marriage of my wife and I [laughter and cheers!]. My daughter being engaged to Meaghan doesn't threaten our marriage. And I don't see that any of you are threatening anybody else in the world.
"Everybody in the United States, everybody in the United States should have the same equal treatment that allows you to find somebody that you love, that allows you to marry that person, to grow old with them, and to create a family and that's what today's about. Congratulations."
Indeed, congratulations California! Though there is more work to be done, let us celebrate the success of our struggles today.
Ted Gideonse contributed to this story.