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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 September 2005, 08:30 GMT 09:30 UK
California backs gay marriage law
(Photo) Controversy over gay marriage in California is long-standing
The California Assembly has become the first state legislature in the US to pass a bill endorsing gay marriages.
The 41-35 vote in favour by the Assembly follows a similar ruling by the state Senate last week. It comes after bitter debate over gay marriage.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger must now decide whether to make the bill law.
The US' first legal gay marriage took place last year, after a Massachusetts court ruled gay couples had the right to marry under its state constitution.
The bill approved by the California Assembly states that marriage is a civil contract between two people, rather than between a man and a woman.
Its supporters have compared it to previous civil rights campaigns such as ending slavery and giving women the right to vote.
The bill's sponsor, San Francisco Democrat Mark Leno, said: "Do what we know is in our hearts. Make sure all California families will have the same protection under the law."
However, opponents argue the bill goes against a public vote five years ago, in which Californians backed a proposition opposing the recognition of gay marriages in other states.
"History will record that you betrayed your constituents and their moral and ethical values," said Jay La Suer, a Republican member of the assembly.
'Last frontier of bigotry'
The legislation, which failed in the assembly by four votes in June, was boosted this time by the Senate's approval of a same-sex marriage bill last week.
Assembly member Paul Koretz, a Democrat, argued bans on gay marriage were "the last frontier of bigotry and discrimination, and it's time we put an end to it".
Gay and lesbian advocates welcomed the assembly's decision, and urged Mr Schwarzenegger to sign it into law.
The office of Mr Schwarzenegger, who has previously opposed gay marriage, issued a statement saying the governor believes the issue is best decided in the courts.
California already gives same-sex couples many of the rights and responsibilities of marriage if they register with the state as partners.
Last month, its highest court ruled lesbian parents have the same rights and duties towards their children in the event of a break-up as parents of the opposite sex.
More than 3,400 gay couples got married in San Francisco in February 2004 before the Supreme Court ordered a halt the following month.
California Legislature Approves Gay Marriage
By Joe Dignan and John Pomfret
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 7, 2005; Page A01
SACRAMENTO, Sept. 6 -- The California Assembly voted Tuesday to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, making the state's legislature the first in the nation to deliberately approve same-sex marriages and handing a political hot potato to an already beleaguered Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R).
After a vehement floor debate in which legislators quoted the Pledge of Allegiance and accused each other of abusing moral principles, the state Assembly passed the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, which recasts the definition of marriage as between "two persons," not between a man and a woman. The state Senate passed the bill last week.
"There are moments in the history of any movement when the corner is turned," said Geoff Kors, the executive director of Equality California, a gay rights group. "This is it. This is the tipping point."
Advocates of the bill, including Christine Chavez-Delgado, granddaughter of Cesar Chavez and an organizer of the United Farm Workers of America, and Willie L. Brown, former mayor of San Francisco, argued that the bill fit into California's sense of itself as a trendsetter for the rest of the country. In 1948, California's Supreme Court became the first state court to strike down a law prohibiting interracial marriage. And California in 1976 was among the first states to repeal sodomy statues.
But opponents, including conservative Republicans, have argued that the law must be stopped in the nation's most populous state because it constitutes another assault on the sanctity of the family. Californians passed a defense-of-marriage act defining marriage as between a man and a woman in 2000, and the state, which mixes freewheeling Marin County with culturally conservative Orange County, has emerged as a front line in the battle over the bedroom ever since.
"Marriage should be between a man and a woman, end of story. Next issue," insisted Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy (R-Monrovia). "It's not about civil rights or personal rights, it's about acceptance. They want to be accepted as normal. They are not normal."
Tuesday's 41 to 35 vote amounted to more difficult news for Schwarzenegger, the Republican actor-turned-politician who roared into Sacramento on the back of a recall election in 2003 promising fundamental change. Schwarzenegger, who has taken on teachers, nurses and other state workers, has seen his popularity lag in recent months. A Field Poll of registered voters early this month put the governor's approval rating at 36 percent -- an all-time low.
If he vetoes the bill, Schwarzenegger will retain the support of his GOP base, which he needs in a special election he has called for November. But he could also alienate many Democrats who voted for him and whose backing he still covets. In the special election, Schwarzenegger is asking voters to grant him more budget-cutting power, to block gerrymandering by placing legislative redistricting in the hands of retired judges and to make public school teachers work five years instead of two before they earn tenure.
"This puts Schwarzenegger on the hot seat," said Bruce Cain, a professor of political science at University of California at Berkeley, who predicted the governor would veto the bill. "I think it's a slam-dunk that he's going to have to veto the bill and hope that the anger in the gay community doesn't spill over into other groups."
Other political strategists, however, said Tuesday's vote would force Schwarzenegger to parse his own personal mix of fiscal conservatism and liberal social views. As a former Hollywood star, he hails from a social milieu where gay men and women occupy key positions, and he has spoken glowingly about his friendships with people of all sexual orientations.
"I think the governor's going to be in a difficult position, because during the campaign his positions were ambiguous on the issue," said Arnold Steinberg, a political strategist who generally works with Republicans.
Schwarzenegger supports domestic partnerships but opposes same-sex marriage, a spokesman for the governor said.
The legislature's move goes further than other states, such as Vermont and Connecticut, which have passed legislation allowing more strictly defined "civil unions." And it differs from Massachusetts, the only state to grant full marriage rights to same-sex couples, because the Massachusetts regulations were passed by order of the state's courts, which ruled that a ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
California is already one of the most gay-friendly states in the nation. Its domestic partnership legislation grants same-sex couples most of the benefits of married couples except a few, such as the right to jointly file income tax returns, the right to bring a foreign partner into the United States and right to pass Social Security benefits on to a spouse. So far, more than 30,000 same-sex couples are registered in California as domestic partners.
The Assembly members were aware that they were making history, and their debate Tuesday night -- to a packed gallery -- focused on whether they should vote their conscience or represent the wishes of their constituents. Slavery, the Bible and the Pledge of Allegiance were wielded by both sides in a piece of political theater rarely seen in Sacramento.
"There are a handful of issues where history will record where we were. This is one of them," said Thomas J. Umberg (D-Anaheim), who had abstained in a vote on the issue in June but voted yes on Tuesday night.
"History will record that you betrayed your constituents and their moral and ethical values," countered Jay LaSuer, his Republican counterpart from La Mesa.
Dignan is a special correspondent; Pomfret reported from Los Angeles. Special correspondent Sonya Geis contributed to this report.
The New York Times
Same Sex Marriage Wins Vote in California
By DEAN E. MURPHY
Published: September 7, 2005
SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 6 - California lawmakers on Tuesday became the first in the country to legalize same-sex marriage, with the State Assembly narrowly approving a bill that defines marriage as between "two persons" instead of between a man and a woman.
Forum: Gay Rights
Unlike Massachusetts, where gay men and lesbians are permitted to marry because of court rulings, the legislators in California voted to amend the state's family code without the threat of legal action.
"Do what we know is in our hearts," Assemblyman Mark Leno, an openly gay Democrat from San Francisco who sponsored the bill, said Tuesday night in a debate on the bill. "Make sure all Californians, all California's children and families, will have equal protection under the law."
Opponents of the measure warned that lawmakers were venturing into uncharted and potentially dangerous territory.
"Engaging in social experimentation with our children is not the role of the legislature," said Assemblyman Ray Haynes, a Republican from Southern California. "We are throwing the dice and taking a huge gamble, and we are gambling with the lives and future of generations not yet born."
The measure now goes to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, who has supported domestic partnership legislation in the past but has not taken a public position on the marriage bill.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Schwarzenegger, Margita Thompson, said after the vote that the governor believed that the issue of same-sex marriage should be settled by the courts, not legislators, but she did not indicate whether that meant he would veto the legislation. The bill did not pass with enough votes to override a veto.
"The governor will uphold whatever the court decides," Ms. Thompson said.
Californians voted overwhelmingly in 2000 for a ballot measure, Proposition 22, that defined marriage as between a man and a woman, but the legality of that law is now being fought over in the courts.
In a case stemming from a decision last year by Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco to allow gay men and lesbians to marry, a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled that the state law was unconstitutional but the ruling is being appealed.
The 41-to-35 vote in the 80-member Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, was along party lines, with no Republicans supporting the bill.
It follows a similar lopsided partisan vote last week in the State Senate, which approved it by the smallest possible margin.
Assemblyman Leno, among six openly gay lawmakers in Sacramento, revived the bill through a controversial parliamentary maneuver known as "gut and amend" after the bill failed to pass the Assembly in June.
Mr. Leno essentially inserted the marriage bill's contents into another bill regarding marine fisheries that was pending in the Senate and stripped of its content. When the bill passed the Senate, Mr. Leno and his allies then persuaded three Democratic members of the Assembly who had abstained in June to vote for the new version.
One of them, Thomas J. Umberg of Anaheim, said during the debate Tuesday that he had been "cajoled, harassed, harangued and threatened" by both sides of the issue, but ultimately decided to support the measure because of his children.
"This is one of those times when history looks upon us to be in the lead," Mr. Umberg said. "The constituency I'm concerned about is a very small one, that is the constituency of my three children should they decide to look back on my record."
But several Republicans derided the parliamentary maneuver to resuscitate the bill and said Democrats who represented districts where voters approved Proposition 22 had no moral authority to subvert that vote.
"We damage the moral fabric of our society, that's what's damaged here," said Assemblyman Dennis L. Mountjoy, a Republican from Southern California.
Assemblyman Jay La Suer, a San Diego Republican, chided his colleagues for sending the wrong message about same-sex marriage, saying that no matter "how you candy coat it," it is wrong.
"You are not leading, you have gone astray," Mr. La Suer said. "History will record that you betrayed your constituents, and their moral and ethical values."