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Daniel Weintraub: For better or for worse, gay marriage is still illegal
By Daniel Weintraub -- Sacramento Bee Columnist
Published 2:15 am PDT Sunday, September 11, 2005
Story appeared in Forum section, Page E1
For legal and political reasons, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's vow to veto a bill the Legislature sent him last week to allow gay marriage in California was inevitable.
Legally, the bill is suspect because it seems to violate Proposition 22, a gay marriage ban approved by voters in 2000.
Politically, the proposal is a loser for Schwarzenegger because the left, which supports it, has already largely abandoned him and is not likely to return to the fold if he signs the bill. A signature, however, would imperil what remains of Schwarzenegger's support on the right, which was never solid to begin with.
You need not be homophobic, or even oppose gay marriage, to dislike AB 849, now on Schwarzenegger's desk. Indeed, the governor has suggested that he is sympathetic to the idea.
But this measure seeks to do for all of California what San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom did last year: overturn, or at least ignore, a vote of the people. That didn't work for Newsom, and it won't work for the Legislature, or the governor if he were to go along.
In 2000, 61 percent of California voters passed Proposition 22, declaring that "only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California." That law remains on the books.
But last year, Newsom decided to take the law into his own hands and approved the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples in San Francisco. After hundreds of couples were married there, or thought they were, the courts ruled the nuptials invalid because a mayor does not have the right to ignore state law, even one he thinks is unconstitutional.
At the same time, lawsuits were filed challenging Proposition 22 on the grounds that it violates California's guarantee of equal protection under the laws for all of the state's citizens. A San Francisco Superior Court judge struck down the law on that basis and others, and the case has been appealed. Eventually it will get to the state Supreme Court.
Not wanting to wait for that court decision, legislators who support gay marriage passed AB 849 last week by a narrow margin. The bill seeks to change the definition of marriage in California to allow "two persons" to marry rather than only a man and a woman. It also declares that gender-specific terms in the state's family laws will be construed to be gender-neutral.
If the bill became law, it would open the door to hundreds or thousands of gay marriages in California. But these would be just as legally suspect as those granted in San Francisco last year.
A signature from the governor on the bill would be a slap in the face to the millions of Californians who voted for Proposition 22. It would also be a repudiation of Schwarzenegger's professed faith in the will of the people.
Gay rights activists say Proposition 22 didn't really ban gay marriage in California, because an earlier law, passed in 1977, had already done that. All the new measure did, they contend, was stop California from recognizing gay unions performed in other states, and their proposal would not undo that restriction.
But that's a stretch. A reasonable reading of the initiative concludes that the measure was meant to cement and extend California's definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
Given that, Schwarzenegger is correct to say that even those who support gay marriage must stand by the rule of law. Since the people have spoken on this issue, there are only two ways to change what they have done. One is for the courts to rule the law unconstitutional. The other is for the voters to overturn Proposition 22, either by passing another statute or by placing a right to gay marriage in the constitution.
No such measure is in the works now. But two competing proposals that would elevate the current gay marriage ban to constitutional status, presumably insulating it from state court review, are circulating on petitions now. Both of those measures also seek to roll back the rights of same-sex couples in domestic partnerships, where California has been a leader.
Polls suggest that Californians have become more open to gay marriage since Proposition 22 passed. But a Legislature and governor who defy the people might just give extra life to one or both of those measures, setting back the gay rights cause for years.
And that would be a shame.
About the writer:
Reach Daniel Weintraub at (916) 321-1914 or email@example.com. Readers can see his daily Weblog at www.sacbee.com/insider. Back columns: www.sacbee.com/weintraub.
Governor: superhero to just another pol
Schwarzenegger lost magic that got him elected, expert says
- Carla Marinucci, John Wildermuth, San Francisco Chronicle Political Writers
Sunday, September 11, 2005
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger strode to power as an "independent'' who vowed to bring warring California political parties together. Now, polls indicate, he's morphed into just another run-of-the-mill Republican.
And the once-heroic reformer who plunged into crowds promising a "clean sweep" of Sacramento? He has been replaced by the politician who is vilified in TV ads, avoids public events for fear of encountering protesters, and fundraises like crazy.
"He was a hotshot, and now he's an anathema,'' Barbara O'Connor, professor of political communication at Cal State Sacramento, said of the governor. "You don't want to see his face in ads.''
It's more than ironic, she said. "People want to like him: He's bright, complex'' and the rare political communicator who is effective with average voters and high-rollers alike, she said. "And Californians want him to succeed.''
But the recasting of Schwarzenegger from California's crusading political outsider to endangered political insider is a script that has been developed quickly since his historic election in the California recall of 2003.
The most alarming turn, his supporters say, is how the broad support that transformed the former Hollywood action hero into the head of California's executive branch -- made up of Republicans, Democrats and independents -- has been reduced in the latest polls almost exclusively to voters who identify themselves as GOP conservatives.
Although rumors are flying that the governor will announce his re-election plans next week, before the state GOP convention in Anaheim, Schwarzenegger continues to play coy.
"I will be making an announcement very soon, '' he told reporters at a Sacramento event Friday.
But approaching the Nov. 8 special election, when voters will decide his proposals on teacher tenure, budget reform and redistricting, the governor faces a dilemma: whether he can recover the magic with all kinds of voters that propelled him into political stardom.
"The governor must still convince independents and moderates that he is as he seemed to be last year ... a figure in Sacramento who stood for solutions and an end to partisan bickering, who put the people's interests first,'' said Mark Baldassare, pollster for the Public Policy Institute of California.
It won't be an easy job: With little more than a year to go before the November 2006 election, the latest polls show the governor's approval rate at less than 40 percent. Even fewer voters said they are inclined to re-elect him.
Schwarzenegger's popularity has been hammered by public protests and pricey television ads from nurses, teachers, firefighters and other union groups. The California Teachers Union alone has put up more than $27 million to battle Schwarzenegger and his ballot initiatives, arguing that the governor has reneged on deals to increase money for education.
News stories also have reported that the governor has raised more money during his early tenure than the man he replaced, Democrat Gray Davis, who Schwarzenegger repeatedly assailed for his fundraising efforts.
While Schwarzenegger is about to broadcast some commercials on behalf of his ballot measures, his backers worry the message is coming too late -- and has already been drowned out by the opposition.
"We're on board with the governor's reform plan, but it's hard to get people motivated when you're not fighting back,'' said Mike Spence, president of the conservative California Republican Assembly. "He has to step it up."
"The Democrats and their allies have been very successful this year in painting a different picture of the governor -- a partisan figure who has his own group of special interests,'' Baldassare said. "He has to find a way to win back the trust, which he's lost ... but he hasn't done things to help himself much.''
Sacramento GOP consultant Wayne Johnson said that has concerned voters on both sides -- Republicans particularly.
"People are discouraged and they're willing to be challenged and inspired,'' he said. Schwarzenegger "has got boundless energy and an infectious, positive attitude. What's missing is the belief by many people involved in the (special election) campaign that we can win -- and that's what he'll provide.''
Some Sacramento insiders, such as Tony Quinn, a co-editor of the California Target Book, which focuses on state campaigns, said the governor hasn't been willing to take the time needed to lay the groundwork for his government reform efforts, but instead rushed into another round of elections.
"He should have spent a year as a substance governor, dealing with what people care about,'' he said. "People don't want a clone of Gray Davis, where it looks like his driving forces are consultants and fundraising."
Democrats have been happy to make it tougher on him. In the last days of the legislative session, they rejected his requests for transportation and solar energy bills, and passed bills legalizing same-sex marriage and allowing driver's licenses for undocumented aliens. The latter two bills forced the governor to step further to the right -- solidifying his GOP base -- by announcing vetoes.
But Sacramento insiders aren't counting Schwarzenegger out, given the governor's considerable political skills.
"Arnold Schwarzenegger is his own best salesman, walking into Chevy's to talk with people,'' O'Connor said. "He needs to tell them he has a plan.''
Interviews with analysts and political consultants suggested six areas the governor must improve to get his campaign on track:
Get a message: His campaign team has pushed "reform to rebuild'' as the official special election slogan -- but it has fallen flat. "The public is totally blank on what it means,'' says Michael Semler, government professor at Cal State Sacramento. "All they know is, the state is a mess.''
Get out of the bubble: Schwarzenegger's most memorable moments in the recall campaign came when he went toe-to-toe with his opponents, such as Arianna Huffington. But that moxie has been sorely missing lately.
"He's been bogged down in the process of government and people want to see him break free. He's got to get out of Sacramento,'' said Johnson, the GOP consultant. "Because he's been unable to respond, he's taking a drubbing.''
Worse, "his handlers have made him into a caricature with staged events that worked OK at first -- but now have become tired and repetitive,'' said Republican consultant Arnie Steinberg. "He's allowed (them) to dumb him down and let himself be tarred as a partisan Republican, even though he really hasn't been that partisan.''
Get bold: The governor plans a series of "Ask Arnold" campaign sessions arranged by groups such as local chambers of commerce. Schwarzenegger's campaign spokesman Todd Harris says that such unscripted events have proven revelatory.
But the experts suggest dumping the chamber of commerce-style predictability in favor of real "town halls'' open to the public. Those kinds of events would reap free media coverage and could set up a confrontation with an angry teacher or protester in the audience that would allow Schwarzenegger to make his case.
Get rid of the fat: Schwarzenegger has a growing cadre of consultants and Sacramento insiders -- with no designated campaign manager. "He's got a team with no direction ... spending too much money to feed the monster, to give everyone a commission check,'' Semler said. "The bigger the monster, the more non-direction.''
Get tough on the Legislature: The Legislature's passage -- and the governor's vetoes -- of the driver's license and same-sex marriage bills may fire up opposition on the left.
But "now Arnold has the campaign he wanted ... on a silver platter,'' Semler said. "He can rail against the out-of-control Legislature. He can say, 'If we don't make a change, the Legislature will continue to ignore the people.' ''
Get Maria: In the 2003 recall, Schwarzenegger's Democratic wife hit the road when her man was confronted with groping allegations -- and told female voters that she stood by him. The "listening tour'' made points, and may have made the difference in the election.
"She's charismatic and wonderful and loves people,'' said O'Connor of Cal State Sacramento, and it won't hurt to remind voters of her Kennedy connections.
E-mail the writers at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
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