California’s gay and lesbian community is reacting with fury to Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s announcement late Wednesday afternoon that he plans to veto legislation, headed for his desk, which would have legalized same-sex marriage in the nation’s largest state.
Schwarzenegger made his intentions known barely 24 hours after the state’s Assembly passed the bill, initiated by San Francisco Democratic Assemblyman Mark Leno, a gay man, which would have made California the first state in America to enact gay marriage without a court order.
The Senate had passed the bill last week, and it was just Schwarzenegger’s signature away from becoming law.
Activists are already planning protests.
One event at the San Francisco’s LGBT Community Center Wednesday night that was intended to be a celebration of the Assembly victory turned into a street demonstration. Activists will stand vigil outside the governor’s office until Schwarzenegger agrees to meet with them. They plan a rally outside the Capitol building in Sacramento on Thursday afternoon.
Advocates are particularly angry that Schwarzenegger announced his veto before meeting with any gay rights supporters about the bill.
“You are holding up history. You are holding up civil rights for an entire state,” charged Molly McKay, who leads field operations for Equality California, the state’s gay rights lobby. “He needs to give us the dignity of an audience before he shuts the door. We’re not going to let this issue die. We are going to stand strong as a community.
“Love is worth fighting for,” she said, “and we’re going to fight.”
Author Leno said he hopes the announcement, by Schwarzenegger’s press secretary Margita Thompson, doesn’t reflect the governor’s true wishes.
“It is an extraordinary and uncommon decision to make prior to allowing the author and proponents an opportunity to give him our own public policy reasons for him to sign the bill,” Leno said. “The only conceivable reason he would make such a hurried decision is to politically pander to the far right . Thompson tells us that this governor never lets politics intrude on his decision making process prior to signing or vetoing a bill.
“If so what an insult to the hard work of the state Assembly and the state Senate which have both spent the past many months holding public hearings considering the policy and fiscal impacts of the bill.”
During the emotional Assembly floor debate Tuesday evening, members of the Legislature spoke in impassioned support of the bill.
“This vote is about basic fairness,” said Assemblyman Paul Koretz, a West Hollywood Democrat.
The legislators were well aware that they were making history.
“This is one of the most important issues of our time,” said Assemblyman Lloyd E. Levine, a Van Nuys Democrat, who also spoke of the civil rights implications of the vote.
“Separate but equal,” Levine said of the state’s domestic partnership statutes, which are among the strongest in the nation, “is not equal.”
Three Assembly members who had abstained in a vote on the same measure in early June changed their votes to push the bill, dramatically, one vote over the minimum it needed to pass. One of them, Assemblyman Thomas J. Umberg, an Anaheim Democrat, said that he changed his vote because his daughter had told him that his abstention was wrong, that the debate is about civil rights, and, Umberg said, “There are a handful of issues where history will record where we were, and this is one of them.”
In the debate, opponents said the idea of same-sex marriage defiled the institution.
“Marriage should be between a man and a woman, end of story. Next issue,” said Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy, a Monrovia Repubican. “It’s not about civil rights or personal rights, it’s about acceptance. They want to be accepted as normal. They are not normal.”
Schwarzenegger is facing plummeting popularity just two years after chasing Democratic Governor Gray Davis out of office in a recall election in 2003. He has taken on nurses, teachers, and state workers and has called a special election for November, the centerpiece of which is a ballot measure that would redraw the lines of the state’s districts to reduce the Democrats’ majority in the Legislature. But the idea of the election is not faring well with voters, and the Democrats are pressing legislation that would allow him to cancel it. Recent polls show that only about 27 percent of the state’s voters like the idea of the election at all.
So advocates claim Schwarzenegger is using the issue of gay rights to shore up eroding support in his right-wing fundamentalist base. On Tuesday, the governor also vetoed a minor bill that would have added sexual orientation to a voluntary list of prohibited topics in political campaign advertising.
Just before going into a meeting with the governor’s staff on Wednesday evening, Geoff Kors, who heads Equality California, said that “with two vetoes of gay rights bills in one day the governor has shown that he is a George Bush, Karl Rove Republican who will sell out his principles and the gay community in a desperate attempt to save his failing political career.
“California voters will finish the job,” Kors threatened.
“He made a politically expedient move that in the long run is going to hurt him,” charged lesbian Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, a Los Angeles Democrat.. “No right-wing base has ever elected a governor.
“This is not over. Civil rights movements don’t stop because they get setbacks by people who play politics.”
State Senator Carole Migden, a San Francisco Democrat, who is one of six gay and lesbian legislators in Sacramento, said that she thinks “it’s heartless for the governor to taunt us with the prospect of a veto. Can’t we be permitted a few days to imagine the possibilities of freedom and equality?”
During the floor debate, Goldberg told the story of her own wedding to 26-year-partner Sharron Stricker. She married Stricker on the steps of San Francisco’s City hall in March 2004 during a brief period when Mayor Gavin Newsom had authorized same-sex marriages, before being stopped by state courts.
“We went there to do that because we thought we would be making a statement about our beliefs. We really weren’t that into it. It was kind of a last minute decision,” Goldberg said. “Sheila Kuehl, Senator Kuehl, said she would do the service for other people and we thought we’d join in. Up until the moment we were actually standing there and she was saying by the authority vested in her she now pronounced us married, I had no idea. I had no idea what a difference that would make.
“Now all of you who’ve been married. You knew that. You knew that. I didn’t. I really didn’t. It was not something I ever thought would ever happen to me.
“I have to tell you it was the most overwhelming moment—I burst into tears. It was the most overwhelming moment I can remember in my adult life
“I still have my ring. I’m still married. Sharron still wears her ring.
“Why do I tell you this?
“I tell you all this because this isn’t an intellectual exercise. You understand. You who are married here. You understand how important marriage is. I just can’t understand for the life of me, why you could deny it to me.
“I don’t get it.
“I truly don’t get it.”