SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders was visibly shaken as he testified Tuesday in the trial to overturn California's Proposition 8, saying he "came very close to making a very bad decision that would affect hundreds of thousands of people" when he almost vetoed a San Diego City Council resolution in 2007 to support San Francisco's pro gay-marriage stance.
A Republican, Sanders ran his mayoral campaign on a "civil unions as a reasonable alternative to same-sex marriage" platform. Sanders said that at the time, his view was influenced by a combination of his supporters' politics and his own underlying prejudice. But Sanders was in a tough position as the father of a lesbian daughter, who even worked on his campaign.
Sanders said he and his oldest daughter Lisa had always been "inseparable."
"I'm trying not to look at my daughter right now," Sanders said after taking a sip of water to compose himself, an action he performed frequently throughout his testimony. Sanders said he learned his daughter was a lesbian when she "came out" to him and his wife in her sophomore year of college, but he felt nothing but "overwhelming love and pride because I realized how hard it was, to tell your parents you're a lesbian. I wasn't upset, just proud of her for coming to us and telling us."
But Sanders said he also "had concerns." As a San Diego police officer for 26 years, and chief of police for seven years, he had seen "what can happen to people who came out of the closet. I've seen violence against the gay community. I've heard the slurs and comments," he said. As a rookie cop in the 1970s, he says he even saw one young sergeant driven out of the police force because he was gay, which Sanders "felt was not fundamentally right. He was a good cop."
U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker's packed courtroom watched a videotaped announcement from September 2007 in which Sanders laid out his reasons for eventually supporting the council's resolution.
"I've decided to follow my heart and do the right thing. And the right thing for me to do is sign this resolution," Sanders said on the videotape as he tried to hold back tears. "I could not bring myself to tell an entire group of people in our community that they were less important and less worthy simply because of their sexual orientation."
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera asked Sanders why he appeared so emotional in the video. "Now that we've established that I cry in public," Sanders said to laughter from the courtroom, "I was emotional because of the prejudice I had toward my daughter. I was saying that one group of people didn't deserve dignity and respect, that their marriages were less than those of heterosexuals."
Sanders said he believed his position was essentially "in the interest of government. If government tolerates discrimination, it becomes an excuse for the public to do the same thing."
Sanders said his daughter and her partner were married last month in Vermont. He was not able to be present at the ceremony.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.