Speakers from both sides dominate public hearing on budget; council to vote later this month
SAM SANCHEZ | QSanAntonio
In the hours leading up to the San Antonio CIty Council’s budget meeting on Wednesday, Pastor Gerald Ripley, the man who’s spearheading the campaign against domestic partnership benefits for city employees, posted on his web site that “Demonic forces are converging over S.A. for the purpose of establishing immorality as a right at the government level.”
The meeting, held in City Council Chambers, was convened expressly to discuss items from the proposed budget, which awaits a vote on Sept. 15.
Even though a few speakers addressed other topics, the majority of those who came to the podium were there to discuss DP benefits.
While Pastor Ripley’s rhetoric didn’t reach the same level when he actually addressed the council, some of his followers appeared to take a cue from his Internet posting.
One speaker said the “evil” of homosexuality is “eating us up.” Another, a woman holding a sign advocating heterosexual marriage, said that San Antonio would be under the “dark cloud of Satan” if DP benefits are granted.
One man said he used to work at a psychiatric hospital where there was a ward just for homosexuals and that giving these people DP benefits was immoral. One speaker admonished the City Council not to do the “politically correct thing but the morally correct thing.”
Activists from the LGBT community, the majority of whom got to speak early in the meeting, stayed on message. That message was that offering these benefits would make the city more competitive in hiring and retaining top talent, and that no employee should be treated like a second-class citizen.
One at time, each of the GLBT speakers made their case in addressing and debunking their foes’ other objections: Cost (less than 1 percent of the total budget); abuse of the program (two forms documentation will be required); and extending DP benefits isn’t an endorsement of same-sex marriage, as some religious extremists have suggested.
“Finally, offering these benefits is the right thing to do for the hundreds of city employees who serve us daily,” activist Randy Bear told the council. “For those city employees who could benefit by this, it’s the right thing to do to be able to look them in the eye and tell them we value them as much as their fellow employees.”
One religious leader who spoke in favor of granting the benefits was Rabbi Barry H.D. Block from Temple Beth-El, who came armed with a letter signed by more than 30 religious leaders.
“All of the undersigned are deeply committed to the sanctity of marriage. We are equally aware that not all members of our society have equal access to state-sanctioned marriage. Like the sanctity of marriage, equal rights and equal opportunity for all human beings and all loving couples are values we all hold dear,” read the text of the letter.
Protestors stood outside City Council chambers while Pastor Gerald Ripley denounced the DP benefits proposal.
Pastor Ripley, who admonished this reporter for trying to take his photograph, came to the podium and began by saying, “It’s been implied that 2 percent of our citizens are treated like second-class citizens. When homosexuals go to the Spurs’ game they can sit on any seat on the bus. They can drink from the same water fountains. They can go into any restaurant or any theater. They can buy a house in any neighborhood. Therefore, I say to you, there are no second-class citizens in our great city.”
Ripley went on to say using the term “second-class citizens” to curry political capital was unfortunate and beneath the dignity of those making the case. He also made the unsubstantiated claim that 70 percent of voters objected to offering the benefits.
What followed in Ripley’s address came almost word-for-word from a fact sheet with 14 talking points that had been posted on his web site in the days leading up to the budget meetings.
Two controversial characters followed Pastor Ripley in speaking out to the City Council against DP benefits.
The first was former talk show host Adam McManus, who was fired for budgetary reasons last year from KSLR-AM, a local Christian radio station. During his time on-air, McManus encouraged his listeners to speak out in 2007 against Police Chief William McManus and in 2009 against Mayor Julian Castro because they served as Grand Marshals for the Gay Pride Parade. In 2006, McManus tried to start a boycott of H-E-B because the grocery chain had contributed $300 to PrideFest.
Also present was Pastor Charles Flowers of the Love Demonstrated Ministries who was arrested in 2007 for dragging a girl behind a van after she failed to keep up during a running exercise at his Christian boot camp near Corpus Christi. In 2006, Love Demonstrated Ministries reported private and government contributions totaling $314,673 to operate the boot camp, with nearly 89 percent of the costs, $278,549, going for salaries.
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