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Assembly OKs same-sex marriage
First-in-nation measure now goes to Schwarzenegger
By Bill Ainsworth
San Diego UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
September 7, 2005
SACRAMENTO – The Legislature became the first in the nation to approve a bill to legalize same-sex marriage last night, a landmark event certain to trigger future political battles.
The Assembly's 41-35 vote sending the bill to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was followed by cheering, clapping and hugs among gleeful supporters on the floor of the Legislature's lower house.
"It's a significant accomplishment. It was a thing of beauty," said Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, the author of Assembly Bill 849.
But Schwarzenegger, a Republican who has supported many of the state's gay-rights laws, has never backed this measure.
"The governor believes the courts are the correct venue for this decision to be made. He will uphold whatever decision the court renders," Schwarzenegger press secretary Margita Thompson said in a statement.
The governor has noted that voters approved Proposition 22 in 2000, a measure that limits marriage to a man and a woman. Any change, he has maintained, should be made by the courts or another vote of the people.
Opponents of same-sex marriage said they said the Legislature is thwarting the will of the voters.
"History will record that you betrayed your constituents and their moral and ethical values. . . . You are not leading; you have gone astray," said Assemblyman Jay La Suer, R-La Mesa.
But backers equated the action on AB 849 with some of the great moments in the civil rights movement.
"Today in California, love conquered fear, principle conquered politics and equality conquered injustice," said Geoffrey Kors, executive director of Equality California.
Regardless of what Schwarzenegger does, opponents said, the Legislature's action will provoke a backlash that will aid their effort to qualify two ballot measures that would amend the state constitution to keep marriage between a man and a woman.
One of the measures deals with marriage, while the other would roll back some rights granted by California to same-sex couples registered as domestic partners.
"It will really get people united and fired up. It's very good for our cause," said Karen Holgate, legislative director for the California Family Alliance, which opposes same-sex marriage. "The people are going to be angry."
Since announcing his bill last year, Leno has relentlessly pursued his cause.
His first bill made it through one committee, but then stalled. This year, when new legislation was rejected by the Assembly in June by four votes, Leno amended the measure into another bill pending in the Senate.
The 40-member Senate, considered more liberal than the Assembly, approved the legislation by a bare majority vote, 21-15, last week.
In the meantime, Leno said, he and his allies have been working for the past three months to persuade Assembly Democrats sitting on the fence to join his cause.
Assemblyman Tom Umberg, D-Santa Ana, who didn't vote on the bill during the first round of Assembly votes, became an object of intense lobbying.
"I've been cajoled, I've been harassed, I've been harangued, I've been threatened – and these are friends communicating with me," he said.
Umberg said he decided to vote in favor of the bill because it's one of the few votes that will be historic.
"This is one of those times when history looks upon us to lead," he said.
Assemblyman Simon Salinas, D-Salinas, who also didn't vote when the bill first came up on the floor in June, ended up casting the deciding 41st vote in the 80-member lower house.
Salinas had been lobbied intensely by United Farm Workers Union co-founder Dolores Huerta, as well as other Latino activists.
"He heard from his base that this is a civil rights issue," said Kors of Equality California.
Among the San Diego-area delegation, only Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, D-San Diego, voted in favor of the bill.
Opposed were Assemblyman Juan Vargas, D-San Diego; Assemblyman Ray Haynes, R-Murrieta; Assemblywoman Shirley Horton, R-Bonita; Assemblyman George Plescia, R-San Diego; Assemblyman Mark Wyland, R-Del Mar; Assemblywoman Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel; and La Suer.
In 2000, 61 percent of voters approved Proposition 22, a statute which states that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."
Leno's legislation doesn't change Proposition 22, but overturns a law passed by the Legislature in the 1970s that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
Leno argues that Proposition 22 should be narrowly interpreted, meaning that it only bans California from recognizing same-sex marriages from out of state, but not from allowing them within California.
Opponents say Proposition 22 applies to all marriages.
Holgate said that if for some reason Schwarzenegger decides to sign the same-sex marriage bill into law, it would be immediately challenged in court. Opponents argue that only the people – not the Legislature – can change a ballot measure approved by voters.
"A statute passed by the people has more power than a statute passed by the Legislature," Holgate said.
California courts are already hearing an appeal of a decision by a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruling that banning same-sex marriage violates the civil rights of homosexuals.
While the California Legislature has taken a lead in expanding gay rights, including a domestic-partner law approved in 1999, other states have been prodded by their courts to act.
Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex marriage because of a court ruling. Vermont passed a civil union law after a ruling by its courts.
Supporters argued on the Assembly floor that the public is gradually coming to accept same-sex marriage. A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California showed that voters are split on the issue.
Backers compared the ban to discrimination against minorities and women.
"This is the last frontier of bigotry and discrimination, and it's time we put an end to it," said Assemblyman Paul Koretz, D-West Hollywood.
Assemblyman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, one of six gays and lesbians serving in the Legislature, said she didn't understand the impact of marriage until she and her partner got married in San Francisco last year while the city was issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
"I burst into tears," Goldberg said. "It was the most overwhelming moment in my adult life."
The state Supreme Court later ruled San Francisco had did not have the authority to issue the licenses and declared them void.
Haynes warned that same-sex marriage would damage society, saying, "We are being asked to engage in a great social experiment, and the results of that experiment, if it is a failure, will be visited upon our children."
Both sides vowed a campaign of intense lobbying to try to persuade the governor. Both expressed optimism.
"I believe this is a governor who is a libertarian," Leno said.
Holgate predicted Schwarzenegger will stick to his previous statements. "He'll look at it strictly as a legal issue," she said.