Some of the Christian protestors carried signs. Many came with children. (Sam Sanchez)

Self-proclaimed Christians fill chambers, monopolize public comment period, but council votes 8-3 in favor of proposal

SAM SANCHEZ  |  QSanAntonio

After much public input, the San Antonio City Council passed a new budget today that includes domestic partner benefits for city employees. The vote was 8 for and 3 against.

District 9 Councilwoman Elisa Chan and Councilmen Carlton Soules of District 10 and David Medina of District 5 were the “no” votes.

The vote came after nearly three hours of comments by local citizens. Those against the initiative monopolized the “Citizens to Be Heard” portion of the meeting, with mostly religious and moral objections.

The council chambers were filled with Christian protesters, including some with babies and school-age children. Some held signs that read “Vote for Marriage (I do!). ”

Sometimes the rhetoric got rough. Some speakers threatened political retribution to council members who voted to keep the measure in the budget. Mike Knupke of the San Antonio Family Association said the question of domestic partnership benefits had “awakened the sleeping Christian giant.”

Former Christian radio talk show host Adam McManus went to the podium with his infant son and pregnant wife to say that he did not support giving benefits to “the live-in lovers” of city employees, gay or straight.

Pastor Gerald Ripley, the main organizer of the protests, displayed a picture of his infant grandchild who has only two teeth, saying his grandson had a better bite because the DP initiative was a toothless idea that was fraught with potential for fraud.

One man, Joe Desega, said that he had been in jail 25 times before he found religion. He said he once ministered to “ex-homosexuals” who were dying from AIDS and who, at the time of their deaths, cried out to God for forgiveness.

While most of the Christian protestors spoke specifically about the DP partner line item, others also protested funding for the San Pedro Playhouse because of its production of the gay-themed play Corpus Christi, and against allowing tax dollars to be used for contraception.

Gustavo Garcia Siller, the Catholic archbishop of San Antonio, issued a statement this morning.

“As the shepherd and archbishop of the Catholic Church in San Antonio, I have observed with interest the public debate that is taking place in our city regarding a recent proposal to extend benefits to domestic partners of city employees,” Siller said. “The Catholic Church recognizes as a fundamental human right that all persons have the opportunity to secure adequate health care. I am concerned, nonetheless, by the manner in which the city is proposing to provide health care by giving legal recognition to a new structure that may ultimately result in the undermining of marriage and the weakening of the family unit that is essential to the good of society. ”

Gay activists chose to feature only one main speaker, attorney Eduardo Juarez, co-chair of the Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio, who came to the podium accompanied by a over a dozen community members including Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas.

The LGBT group presented the City Council with a large plexiglass box filled with almost 3,000 signed cards asking the mayor and council members to support the DP benefits initiative. Former City Councilwoman Elena Guajardo, who’s openly gay, held a large blow-up of one of the yellow cards.

After all the comments from citizens had been heard, Councilwoman Chan made a motion to have the domestic partner initiative pulled out of the budget and voted on separately. This gave an opportunity for each council member to offer their perspective on the issue.

Most of those on the council who were in favor of the benefits said that it was the fair and right thing to do for city employees. Councilman Ray Saldana of District 4 said he would always side with equality.

Chan’s main objections were financial. She feared that the cost estimates would be more than anticipated and questioned the verification process by which couples would qualify for the benefits. Councilman David Medina cited economic factors as well community opposition as the basis for rejecting the proposal.

In endorsing the initiative, Mayor Julian Castro cited the many corporations and cities that offer similar benefits and said,  “This is not a new issue — this should have be done some time ago.”

Chan’s breakout motion was voted down by a margin of 7 to 4 clearing the way for the 8 to 3 vote that approved the final budget.

Just minutes after the vote, Equality Texas put sent out an e-mail news blast that summed up the day’s results: “Today’s vote is an affirmation of the City Council’s belief that all San Antonians should be treated equally, with the dignity and respect they deserve. There was opposition. And, there will likely be negative backlash. As we move forward, let us remember that fairness and justice will always be in the best interests of our diverse communities.”