Breaking: Pressure builds for San Jose mayor to back same-sex marriage
by Matthew S. Bajko
San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed's unwillingness to back marriage rights for LGBT couples will come to a head at a public hearing May 30.
Since San Francisco officials kicked off a nationwide debate on same-sex marriage by marrying LGBT couples in 2004, Reed has remained steadfast in his refusal to endorse marriage equality.
He opposed having San Jose back the state court case San Francisco filed to overturn California's anti-gay marriage statutes. And as a city councilman, he was the lone vote against asking Sacramento lawmakers to pass a same-sex marriage bill before the Legislature.
In 2008 he refused to take a stance on Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment California voters passed that fall banning same-sex marriage, when asked about the antigay ballot measure by the Bay Area Reporter.
This year Reed has rankled LGBT citizens in the Bay Area's largest city by refusing to sign on in support of the bipartisan effort Mayors for the Freedom to Marry. An online petition urging Reed to do so had more than 1,120 signatures as of Friday afternoon.
LGBT activists had hoped to plead their case with Reed at a meeting Friday, May 18. But Reed canceled the sit-down, telling those scheduled to meet with him he could do so in June.
"We tried to meet with the mayor but he cancelled at the last minute," said Jo Kenny, a lesbian labor leader in San Jose. "We asked for his opinion on the resolution, and he said he would tell us when he meets with us in June."
Losing patience, the LGBT activists decided instead to go public with their frustrations with Reed this week. And they are now taking their fight with the mayor to the City Council.
San Jose Councilman Ash Kalra introduced a resolution Thursday that calls on Reed to join the more than 200 mayors from across the United States who have signed the Freedom to Marry statement.
"We are in the heart of Silicon Valley. This is ridiculous we have to push our mayor to see everyone should be treated equally," Kalra told the B.A.R. "Our mayor is the only big city mayor not signed onto marriage equality. That is a shame."
The resolution will be heard by the city's Rules Committee at its 2 p.m. meeting Wednesday, May 30. LGBT leaders are planning to hold a press conference that morning at City Hall to call for the four-person panel to send the resolution on to the full council for a vote at its June 5 meeting.
The resolution needs three votes to pass or it will die in committee. Reed, who has a vote on council matters, chairs the Rules Committee, and therefore, is unlikely to support the resolution.
A spokesman for the mayor told the B.A.R. that he was out of town for the holiday weekend and unavailable for comment. Nor could he say what Reed's position on same-sex marriage is.
"I'm afraid I don't know the answer to that. It's not something I've spoken to the mayor about," wrote spokesman David Low in an emailed response. "It'd be best to wait until Wednesday when he addresses the issue during the Rules Committee meeting."
Two other Rules Committee members, Councilmen Pete Constant and Pierluigi Oliverio, have yet to signal how they will vote. Neither returned the B.A.R.'s request for comment Friday afternoon.
Oliverio is running for re-election against an out gay lawyer on the June primary ballot. He represents many of San Jose's gay neighborhoods and supports marriage equality.
In interviews this spring, he has also told the B.A.R. that he has tried to push Reed on the matter but accepts his stance.
The fourth member on the committee is Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen. A backer of same-sex marriage, she had the support of LGBT leaders in 2009 during efforts to recall her from office.
Her name was listed as a supporter of the pro-same-sex marriage resolution when it was first released yesterday. But this morning Nguyen's name was removed from a revised version sent out to council members.
Kenny told the B.A.R. that she spoke with the vice mayor Friday morning about why she dropped her name as a co-sponsor.
"Her support for the mayor was more important than LGBT civil rights. She said she could not support a resolution that calls on the mayor to sign the marriage pledge," said Kenny.
Nguyen told the B.A.R. that she had not fully understood what the resolution was calling for when she agreed to sponsor it. While she "wholeheartedly believes" same-sex couples deserve the same rights as other couples, Nguyen also feels it is inappropriate to demand that the mayor agree with her position.
"I am really uncomfortable doing that. I don't want to impose my beliefs on any one individual," she said. "This action is contrary to the spirit of this resolution. This is similar to asking him to vote against his conscious."
According to the memo Kalra sent Friday, Councilmen Don Rocha and Kansen Chu are co-sponsoring his resolution. By adopting it, "San Jose can ensure its rightful place on the correct side of history and progress," write the men in the memo.
"I think it's great," said Rick Infantino, a gay man who has been pushing people to sign the online petition urging Reed to follow his fellow mayors in endorsing marriage equality. "We need to be a little prouder of our city, and we need to feel welcome at City Hall."
Instead, said Infantino, Reed is "basically avoiding us."
"Here we are, the 10th largest city in the nation, and we don't have the support of our mayor on this issue," Infantino said.
He noted that Kalra is presenting the resolution even though he doesn't represent Infantino's district or the district that includes the Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center.
He called the councilman "a really great supporter of the gay community."
But seeing Kalra's resolution survive rules will be "an uphill battle," said Infantino, since Reed controls the panel.
Prior to Nguyen's switch, Kalra said he was hopeful the resolution could pass out of rules. A super majority of eight members on the council can override the Rules Committee, said Kalra.
"It is the right thing to do," he said. "I have always been in favor of marriage equality. With our president now coming out publicly in favor, it is time to have our council support marriage equality."
A new online petition in support of Kalra's resolution had 28 signatures as of Friday afternoon. It is located at http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/2670/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=10613.
The Rules Committee hearing will be broadcast live online at http://sanjose.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=2.
Seth Hemmelgarn contributed to this story.