No good deed goes unpunished, as is illustrated once again with yesterday’s rebuke of San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders by East County Republicans for recently reversing his position on gay marriage. The mayor, a moderate Republican who had long been against gay marriage but for civil unions, last week held an emotional press conference in which he recanted his previous position and pledged to sign a bill passed by the San Diego City Council in support of same-sex marriage. While holding back tears, Sanders explained that,
I just could not bring myself to tell an entire group of people in our community they were less important, less worthy or less deserving of the rights and responsibilities of marriage than anyone else simply because of their sexual orientation.
Mayor Sanders should be lauded, not criticized, for his amazing show of integrity. The reversal is politically very risky—San Diego is a generally conservative city and Sanders faces re-election in which he’s challenged from the right. But, as Sanders acknowledged, his daughter and one of his staffers is gay, and, “In the end, I couldn’t look any of them in the face and tell them that their relationships, their very lives, were any less meaningful than the marriage I share with my wife, Rana.”
Politicians and pundits have argued against Sanders’ position by pointing out that the majority of San Diegans are against gay marriage and thus Sanders is ignoring the will of the people. But politicians don’t just have the responsibility to serve by following popular sentiment; they also have the responsibility to protect minority rights, no matter how unpopular such measures may be. If the right to marry is up to a majority vote then it’s not really a “right” at all. Can you imagine many heterosexual couples tolerating the government deciding they were undeserving of marriage and they’d just have to be content with a civil union instead? Certainly not. In fact, that marriage means so very much to people is exactly why gay marriage is such a big issue in the first place, and also points to the whole Jim Crow-esque feeling of civil unions.
Thus, no matter how politically unpopular supporting gay marriage might be, it’s the right thing to do. I only wish that there were more politicians like Jerry Sanders across the U.S. willing to take a political hit for what they know in their hearts to be just (Ahem, Dick Cheney?). Here’s hoping his courageous move will inspire others to follow suit.