San Jose, Calif., to recognize same-sex marriages
March 11 2004 1:00 AM ET
The San Jose, Calif., city council voted 8-1 on Tuesday to recognize same-sex marriages performed in San Francisco and elsewhere, even though such unions cannot be performed in San Jose. The motion to extend such recognition could also provide more comprehensive health and retirement benefits to partners and family members of gay and lesbian city workers.
San Jose currently provides domestic-partner benefits to 49 gay and lesbian city employees, although the new measure, drafted by San Jose mayor Ron Gonzales and openly gay council member Ken Yeager, would provide even more. However, it remains unclear whether health care providers will also agree to
extend the benefits.
More than 400 residents crowded into council chambers and more than 200 were in overflow seating downstairs, including dozens of outspoken self-identified Christians, who brought copies of the Bible and quoted scripture. More than 100 people addressed council members. Testimony generally split between those who consider gay marriage a civil rights issue and those who argued that faith and tradition forbid the recognition of same-sex unions, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
According to the newspaper, city employee Don Burrus noted that his grandparents were not allowed to marry in 1901 because mixed-race marriages were against the law. Yet a courageous Baptist minister gave them a church wedding anyway, suffering abuse for doing so. "I applaud that minister who stood up for fairness and equality in the disapproving face of community values," Burrus said. "This is truly the right thing to do."
City worker Tina Salas, 46, a lesbian who got married last month in San Francisco, said she deserves the same rights as other married city workers. Her attempt to change her marital status and get health benefits for her partner's biological children sparked the debate.
The city provides medical coverage to her spouse, Kathleen Chavez Salas, but the couple pays hundreds of dollars per month to insure their children. Unlike the case with opposite-sex married couples, Salas's pension would not have automatically passed to her spouse when she died before this resolution passed.
Even though the measure passed overwhelmingly, most speakers were opposed. Many had harsh words for San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, whose administration began licensing same-sex marriages February 12. The licenses are being challenged in the courts. A voter-approved state initiative in 2000 declared that California recognizes only marriages between a man and a woman.
"I actually resent the term 'marriage' that's been used up here. I call them 'Newsom unions' because it's something between marriage and civil unions, but it's not the law," said Don Jones, a San Jose resident who said he favors civil unions. "I'm not antihomosexual, but I am for traditional marriage that made this country strong."
Larry Shoemaker quoted an Old Testament verse and brought a flashlight to council chambers because, he said, an earthquake and power outage would strike if the city recognized same-sex marriage. Shoemaker said he's been fearing retribution since 1976, when he moved closer to "the fruits and nuts and freaks of San Jose."