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Calif. Senate Passes Gay Marriage Bill
Move Is the First by a State Legislative Body Without a Court Order
By Joe Dignan and Amy Argetsinger
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 2, 2005; A02
SACRAMENTO, Sept. 1 -- The California Senate voted Thursday to allow gay couples to wed, becoming the first legislative body in the nation to approve same-sex marriage without a court order.
The bill would recast the state's legal definition of marriage as a union between two people rather than one between a man and a woman.
Yet it faces an uncertain future: The California Assembly narrowly rejected similar legislation in June, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has given mixed or ambiguous responses on whether he would support or veto such a bill.
Still, its passage, on a vote of 21 to 15, was hailed by advocates as a breakthrough for gay rights.
"It will totally take away the argument that it is just 'activist judges' who are finding for marriage nondiscrimination," said Geoff Kors, the head of Equality California. "It's the people's representatives in the largest state in the nation doing this."
Opponents deemed it an "arrogant" move in defiance of a voter-approved law limiting marriage rights to male-female couples. "Twenty-one Democrats in the Senate took it upon themselves to redefine marriage," said Benjamin Lopez, a lobbyist for the Traditional Values Coalition, "and they're saying that 4.6 million Californians are wrong."
The vote is distinct from those in such states as Connecticut and Vermont, which more narrowly crafted the right to "civil unions" for same-sex couples while reserving the word "marriage" for heterosexuals. Massachusetts this year became the only state to grant full marriage rights to gay or lesbian couples, but only after the state's courts ruled bans on such unions unconstitutional.
California has emerged as a key battleground in the debate over same-sex marriage. In 2000, the state's voters approved the referendum defining marriage as a union between two members of the opposite sex. But early last year, San Francisco officials issued marriage licenses to more than 4,000 gay couples, arguing that state law banning such unions violated the state's constitution.
The state Supreme Court nullified those unions, citing state law. In March, a San Francisco judge hearing lawsuits from activists and city officials declared the law unconstitutional, setting up a battle that will eventually be heard again in the state's highest court.
In the state capital Thursday, an emotional debate erupted, with proponents calling same-sex marriage a civil rights issue. Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) likened arguments in favor of the state's current marriage laws to those used to intern Japanese Americans during World War II and to justify slavery. "History has shown that that was wrong," she said.
Republican opponents said marriage between a man and a woman is a building block of society, and argued that the institution was created by God.
A "higher power created the institution of marriage," said Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth (R-San Diego). "We should protect traditional marriage, and we should uphold all of those values and institutions that . . . keep our society together today."
Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) said that "marriage is fundamentally different from a civil contract. It's the way we bring new life into the world." He called it a "natural institution," which "we've done a lot to undermine."
Sen. Martha M. Escutia (D-Montebello) responded: "My higher power tells me: Love one another . . . When you look at the Judeo-Christian principles, the main principles have been equality and tolerance."
Lawmakers said the issue had generated more attention than any other this session. "I've had 4,000 calls," Ortiz said.
Margita Thompson, a spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger, said the governor believes "the issue should be decided by the ballot box or the courts," and would not comment on whether he would sign or veto the bill if it passes.
Thompson made a point of saying that the issue "has been decided by the people." But she added that the governor "will uphold whatever the court decides."
She said that "the governor does not believe in gay marriages, but he supports the current domestic partnership laws." Those in California grant gay couples many of the same privileges as married heterosexuals except the right to file taxes together.
First, though, the bill will likely move to the Assembly next week. A similar version was defeated by the larger legislative body in June, by a 41 to 37 vote, but its sponsor believes it may fare better this time.
Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) noted that in recent months, Canada and Spain have adopted same-sex marriage. The United Farm Workers endorsed the bill, as did Los Angeles's new mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa.
"This is not radical. This is not vanguard," Leno said. "We're part of something bigger than ourselves now."
Argetsinger reported from Los Angeles.
2:58 PM PDT, September 1, 2005
Calif. Senate Votes to Allow Gay Marriages
By Jordan Rau, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
SACRAMENTO -- The California State Senate voted today to allow homosexuals to marry, becoming the first legislative body in the United States to embrace the idea and setting off a frantic scramble for three votes in the Assembly that could propel the measure toward becoming law.
The Senate approved the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act — which would make marriage a civil contract between two people rather than a man and a woman — by the minimum number of necessary votes, 21-15. All Republicans opposed the bill, as did one Democrat, Sen. Dean Florez of Shafter; three Democrats abstained.
In a signal of how precarious passage was even in the generally liberal Senate, advocates had waited an extra day to hold the vote until they were assured that Sen. Kevin Murray (D-Culver City), whose wife is in labor, could be present to vote in support.
With the year's legislative session slated to end next Friday, the fight shifts to the Assembly, where the measure failed to pass in June, 37-36. Legislation requires 41 votes for approval. Since then, backers have only been able to ensure one additional vote, of a lawmaker who had been absent that day.
Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), the proposal's chief sponsor, said, "We're looking for three votes, and I can't tell you today who the three will be, but I think the power of the success coming from the floor of the Senate today will give us the necessary momentum and encouragement to do what we all know is the right thing to do."
The governor's spokeswoman, Margita Thompson, indicated that Schwarzenegger would not sign the bill if it gets to his desk.
"The governor was elected to uphold the laws of California. The people spoke when they voted in Proposition 22. It has subsequently gone to the courts and the governor believes that is where it should be decided. It's an issue for the people and the courts," she said.
California would be the second state to permit gays and lesbians to marry, after Massachusetts, where the state's highest court legalized it starting in May 2004.
So far, lawmakers in two states, Connecticut and Vermont, have approved civil unions. In July, Spain and Canada legalized gay marriage, following the Netherlands and Belgium. Some other countries allow civil unions.
Calif. Senate votes to legalize gay marriage
Thu Sep 1, 2005 04:25 PM ET
By Jenny O'Mara
SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - The California Senate voted on Thursday to allow gay marriage, giving an initial legislative boost to one of the state's most contentious issues.
The Democrat-dominated Senate voted 21-15 in favor of making marriage in California "gender-neutral," thus open to couples of the same sex. All Senate Republicans and one Democrat opposed the measure.
The legislation now advances to the California Assembly, where legislators say the measure will have a more difficult time gaining enough votes for passage. The Assembly killed a gay marriage bill in June.
Even if backers were to gain enough votes there, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has expressed past opposition to gay marriage, could veto the measure.
"My fellow members, gay and lesbian people fall in love, we settle down, we commit our lives to one another," said Democratic Senator Sheila Kuehl of Santa Monica, who is gay.
"If our goal is to teach our children to model self-respect, is it not counter productive to dishonor them and their parents or their families? Fellow members this is a bill whose time has come."
In the debate, Republican Senator Dennis Hollingsworth cited what he called a "higher power" in his opposition.
"I don't think there's a member in this chamber who doesn't somewhere either readily on the surface or somewhere deep down inside know that this is not the right thing to do," he said.
"You have to ask, where does that come from? I believe that comes from a higher power that put that knowledge in you. That higher power is also the higher power that created the institution of marriage."
California law sets a traditional definition of marriage as a union of man and woman although the state does allow domestic partnerships for gay couples, providing them many rights extended to married heterosexuals.
The nation's most populous state became a prime battleground in the gay marriage debate when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom allowed more than 4,000 homosexual couples to wed last year, until that was halted by court order.
As in many other U.S. states, a legal fight over same-sex marriage is also underway in California courts, where experts say legal resolution may not come for years.
Bill to legalize gay marriage revived in California
September 1, 2005 - AFP
A bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in the most populated US state got the backing of legislators in a milestone triumph for gay rights, according to its author.
The bill cleared the California state Senate with a majority vote and had momentum to win a similar victory in the Assembly, according to the office of Mark Leno, the state assemblyman who wrote the bill.
"Today represents another milestone toward the fulfillment of the American dream for thousands of lesbian and gay couples in California," Leno said. "Society is strongest when it upholds the basic civil rights of all its citizens, including the right to marry the person you love."
When the bill cleared the state senate floor, it marked the first time a full body of elected legislators endorsed a change in law to put gay marriages on par with heterosexual unions, Leno said.
"Im grateful that a majority of my colleagues stood up against discrimination, and in favor of allowing same-sex couples who want to devote their lives to one another," Leno said.
The proposed legislation would amend state law to define marriage as a civil contract between two people, instead of between a man and woman.
"Today is an unforgettable moment in California history," said Geoffrey Kors, director of Equality California, a statewide gay rights advocacy organization.
"The State Assembly in the largest state of the nation just took a bold and giant step in the direction of equality and respect for all families."
The eastern state of Massachusetts last year became the first US state to legalize same-sex marriage, by judicial decree, after its supreme court barred discrimination against same-sex couples.
Leno predicted the bill would win a vote on the Assembly floor and then be put on the desk of California's celebrity Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for final approval.
"If this can happen in the nations most populous state, it can happen anywhere - with enough time, effort and honesty about the simple truth of our lives and our love," Leno said.
But even if Schwarzenegger signs the bill, that is unlikely to mark the end of the fight for the right of gays and lesbians to marry in California.
Opponents of same-sex marriage are promoting ballot measures that would call on voters to decide whether to unequivocally define legal marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
Leno's bill "is a repulsive attack on voters of California who want marriage protected," according to the Campaign for Children and Families, which has doggedly fought against legalizing gay marriages.
Leaders of the group are urging support of Proposition 22, which would make heterosexual unions the only valid marriages in California.
State senate OKs bill legalizing same-sex marriage
Measure faces uphill battle in the Assembly
- Lynda Gledhill, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, September 1, 2005
(09-01) 14:33 PDT Sacramento (SF Chronicle) -- The California State Senate, in a historic vote Thursday, approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriages under state law.
It is the first time a state legislative body in the United States has volunarily voted to approve same-sex marriage. Vermont and Massachusetts issued marriage licenses to gays and lesbians only after court rulings.
The California bill now moves to the Assembly, where it failed in a vote earlier this year and faces an uncertain fate as the legislative session draws to an end next week.
The 21 to 15 Senate vote followed more than an hour of emotional debate, where the issue of whether a civil licenses should be granted mixed with personal discussions of God, religious beliefs and family. The body’s three lesbian members all spoke of their emotions, while another senator spoke of his 50-year interracial marriage, drawing applause from both his Republican and Democrat colleagues.
“At its core, this bill is about affording all Californians dignity and respect,” said Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica.
The bill does not require any religious organization to recognize or perform marriages for same-sex couples. AB 849 make marriage as defined by law gender neutral by taking out the notion that marriage is between a man and a woman.
California state law did not place gender into the marriage code until 1977.
Opponents said it violates the essence of what marriage is about — a family to raise children in.
“The reason marriage is fundamentally different from a civil contract is that marriage is formed for a fundamental purpose — that is to bring a new life into the world,” said Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Northridge.
The bill faces an uphill battle in the Assembly. Supporters, who said the bill could be heard as soon as Tuesday, hope the momentum of the Senate vote will help tip the scales in favor of the bill.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on the bill, his office said. Previously the governor has said the issue is up to the courts and the people to decide.
Both will ultimately have a say, as cases involving gay marriage are winding their way through the court system and at least two initiatives explicitly saying that marriage can only be between a man and a woman may be headed for ballots next year.
Several lawmakers said they believed their vote on the bill would be one of the most important they cast as lawmakers.
“When I leave this legislature, I want to tell my grandchildren that I stood up for dignity and the rights of all,” said Sen. Liz Figueroa, D-Fremont.
Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta, said members should listen to a higher power when deciding how to vote.
“I don’t think there is a member in this chamber who doesn’t somewhere — either readily on the surface or somewhere deep down inside — know that this is not the right thing to do,” he said. “Where does that come from? It comes from a higher power.”
But Sen. Richard Alarcon, D-Los Angeles, said he “absolutely believes this is right.”
“The last time I checked, a higher power created all of us. In the eyes of God, they are all human beings, all equal to him,” he said. “Why are they not equal to us?”
E-mail Lynda Gledhill at email@example.com.