The mayor of San Diego testified Tuesday that his views on same-sex marriage evolved after he learned one of his daughters was a lesbian.
Mayor Jerry Sanders took the witness stand on behalf of two same-sex couples suing to overturn Proposition 8, California's voter-approved gay marriage ban.
"I had been prejudiced," he said. "I was saying one group of people did not deserve the same respect, did not deserve the same symbolism of marriage, and I was saying their marriages were less important than those of heterosexuals."
The trial, in its sixth day, is the first in a federal court to examine whether denying gays and lesbians the right to wed violates their constitutional rights.
Sanders recounted his last-minute decision in 2008 to sign a City Council resolution backing efforts to legalize same-sex marriage. The decision contradicted a campaign promise and his public pledge to veto the resolution.
Broke down in tears
Sanders was shown a videotape of the news conference where he broke down in tears while announcing his reasons for changing his mind.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who questioned Sanders on direct examination, asked why Sanders was so emotional on the video.
"I felt I came very close to making a bad decision," Sanders said. "I came very close to showing the prejudice I obviously had toward my daughter to my staff and to the people of San Diego."
Sanders, a Republican, now believes it's in the interest of government to support same-sex marriage. A former police chief, he cited examples of hate crimes against gays and of police officers being afraid to acknowledge they are gay.
"If government tolerates discrimination against anyone it is very easy for citizens to do the same thing," he said.
Brian Raum, a lawyer for Proposition 8 sponsors, intensely cross-examined the mayor about his past support for civil unions as an alternative to marriage.
"You didn't think that was a hostile position to the gay and lesbian community," Raum said. "You don't believe that you communicated hatred to the gay and lesbian community, did you?"
"I feel like my thoughts were grounded in prejudice, but I don't feel like I communicated hatred," Sanders said.
Throughout the trial backers of the ban have tried to show the ballot measure was not motivated by deep-seated bias toward gays. Such "animus" would make it more difficult for the measure to pass constitutional muster.