On Tuesday, September 6, 2005, California lawmakers became the first in the United States to approve a bill recognizing same-sex marriages. Assembly Bill (AB) 849, “The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act,” authored by California Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) passed 41-35. The California Senate approved it 21-15 last week. The bill, which makes the law defining marriage gender-neutral (gender was not placed into California’s marriage laws until 1977), does not require any church or other religious organization to recognize or perform same-sex marriages.
The bill will now go to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who has until October 6, 2005, to either sign or veto the bill or to simply allow it go into effect without his signature. Governor Schwarzenegger, who has expressed acceptance of same-sex marriage, has signaled that he will veto it, saying that this is an issue that should be decided by the courts.
The Governor’s spokeswoman, Margita Thompson said, “The people spoke when they passed Proposition 22. The issue subsequently went to the courts. The governor believes the courts are the correct venue for this decision to be made. He will uphold whatever decision the court renders.”
A case testing the legality of a ban on same-sex marriages is headed for the state Supreme Court. The state appellate court is now considering appeals of a lower court ruling, which overturned the California laws that banned the civil recognition of same-sex marriages.
Mr. Leno characterized the recognition of same-sex marriage as the most significant civil rights issue of the 21st century and said that he is optimistic about Governor Schwarzenegger’s open-mindedness.
“I believe this is a governor who at his core is a libertarian on issues of social matters,” Mr. Leno said, “and that he is very fair-minded. I think he also takes the longer, rather than shorter, view of history.” Mr. Leno also noted a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, which showed that Californians are evenly split, 46% to 46%, on the issue of same-sex marriage.
“Do what we know is in our hearts,” said Mr. Leno in a debate on the bill, “Make sure all California families will have the same protection under the law.”
The measure was approved after three Assembly members, Tom Umberg (D-Anaheim), Gloria Negrete-McLeod (D-Chino) and Simon Salinas (D-Salinas), changed their minds after having abstained on a similar proposal that failed in June by 4 votes. Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally (D-Compton), who was not present for the June vote, also helped the bill to pass.
“This is one of those times when history looks upon us to see where we are,” Mr. Umberg said. “Ten years from now, there are a handful of issues that history will record where we stood, and this is one of those issues. History will record whether we pushed a bit, took the lead to encourage tolerance, to encourage equality to encourage fairness,” he said.
Ms. Negrete-McLeod also said that she regretted her June abstention, saying that she was convinced by the words of the Declaration of Independence that demanded “justice for all.”.
Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, a backer of the bill said that Tuesday’s vote showed that gay rights advocates have “turned the corner on the issue of marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.”
“As the debate today shows, love conquers fear, principle conquers politics and equality conquers injustice, and the governor can now secure his legacy as a true leader by signing this bill,” Mr. Kors said.
The bill’s supporters compared the legislation to civil rights campaigns to eradicate slavery and secure the right to vote for women.
Opponents of the civil recognition of same-sex marriage have vowed to go to court if the bill becomes law, saying it violates the spirit of Proposition 22, a 2000 ballot initiative that prohibits California from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states or countries. Proposition 22, which California Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer deemed unconstitutional earlier this year, is not actually impacted by AB 849.
Those who disapprove of marriage equality for gay and lesbian people are also trying to qualify initiatives for the 2006 ballot, one that would amend California’s state Constitution to ban the recognition of same-sex marriages and another that would roll back some of the rights gained by same-sex couples who register as “domestic partners.”
Randy Thomasson, president of the Campaign for Children and Families (but apparently only children and families that organization finds acceptable) said, “The only word I can see here is prostitution. Instead of obeying the voters and the Constitution, the Democratic politicians have prostituted themselves to the homosexual marriage agenda. It’s not gay, it’s bad.”
In a September 6 press release, Mr. Thomasson said, “Schwarzenegger can’t afford to sign the ‘gay marriage license’ bill, He’ll actually become a hero to the majority of Californians when he vetoes it. The ‘Terminator’ should announce without delay that this bill is dead meat.”
“I think it’s a sad day. I think the people of California want us to do the business of jobs, the economy, education, illegal immigration, and today we had to spend several hours talking about an issue that the voters decided back five years ago, that marriage should be between a man and a woman … I think it shows how out of touch the legislature is,” said Assemblywoman Sharon Runner (R-Lancaster).
Assemblyman Jay La Suer (R-a San Diego) said, “You are not leading, you have gone astray. History will record that you betrayed your constituents, and their moral and ethical values.” –
“The institution of marriage transcends political fads. We are talking about an institution that has been defined for thousands of years … and we are being asked to engage in a great social experiment,” Assemblyman Ray Haynes (R-Murrieta) said.
“It’s not about civil rights or personal rights, it’s about acceptance. They want to be accepted as normal. They are not normal,” insisted Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy (R-Monrovia), who also said, “We damage the moral fabric of our society, that’s what’s damaged here.”
The opponents of the civil recognition of same-sex marriage do not want this issue characterized as one of civil and human rights because it is an issue of civil and human rights.
Who do they think they’re fooling and how long do they expect them to stay fooled? After all, equality is not the same thing as acceptance and nobody can objectively define that ambiguous social concept some people call “normal.”
Aren’t oppression and bigotry damaging to the moral fabric of our society?
Is it ethical to create a second class of citizenship?
Is it prudent to think of equal protection under the law as a “social experiment?”
And, the current most important question: Will Governor Schwarzenegger place equality over injustice and principle above politics?