Our circus of a budget season, marred with debate over everything from sidewalks to sodomy, is finally over. But Thursday's vote may not be the last we've heard about domestic-partner benefits in the city.
With an 8-3 vote, the City of San Antonio churned out a budget granting domestic partner benefits to gay and straight city employees, capping countless hours of intense, fiery debate that roiled nearly every community budget hearing over the past month. LGBT advocates and several council members cheered the vote as a step toward equality, while opponents on the religious right decried the move, saying it marks San Antonio's quick descent into moral decay.David Medina (District 5), Elisa Chan (District 9), and Carlton Soules (District 10) were the only members to vote against the proposal. Chan and Medina both claimed constituents in their districts overwhelmingly disapproved of the measure, while Soules claimed to take issue with the process, saying the city rushed through the proposal without enough thought. The city primed itself for a budget-season culture clash this year. The San Pedro Playhouse, with its staging of the gay-Christ-portraying Corpus Christi, started the fire, and many of the local groups deeply angered over the play, like the San Antonio Family Association and a group of local pastors calling themselves Voices for Marriage, latched onto the domestic-partner issue. The small but boisterous group of social conservatives hit nearly every public budget hearing, decrying the “blasphemy” of Corpus Christi and claiming City Hall was “pandering to the radical homosexual agenda,” effectively chipping away at the sacred institution of marriage. Gerald Ripley, a local pastor with Voices for Marriage who helped drum up loud opposition to the measure, put out this rallying cry: “Demonic forces are converging over S.A. for the purpose of establishing immorality as right at the government level.” The new policy comes at a miniscule cost to the city, according to estimates from the city manager's office, and before voting for the budget Thursday, Mayor Julián Castro aptly noted, “We have a $2.2 billion budget. It's ironic, then, that we spend most of our time talking about an item that does equal .014 percent, or $300,000 for domestic partnership benefits.” Still, heated rhetoric marred the entire public process. George Rodriguez, president of the San Antonio Tea Party, decried the city's “liberal social agenda” before taking aim at Castro. “Mr. Mayor, this is nothing more than a stepping stone for political gain. We are tired of being a stepping stone. We're tired of Henry Cisneros wannabes, we're tired of Hispanic liberals pushing their agenda on the rest of us.” With threats to spark a recall election drive, Rodriguez said, “There are morals and there is right and wrong. The fact of the matter is that many of you are calling right wrong and wrong right.” Local attorney Allan Parker with the conservative Justice Foundation even made an appearance Thursday, making veiled threats of possible legal action, claiming, essentially, that recognizing gay domestic partnerships would put the city out of line with the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage (some might remember the legal bitchslap federal judge Sam Sparks delivered Parker when he tried to butt into a lawsuit over the state's controversial sonogram law recently). San Antonio joins four other Texas cities in offering domestic partnership benefits to gay and straight employees, none of which have been challenged in court for constitutionality. “This is not San Antonio breaking any new ground whatsoever, at all,” Castro remarked. “This is an old issue, and I believe that we should have done this quite some time ago.”