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Dan Walters: Governor frustrates gay rights warriors, but it works for him
By Dan Walters - Sacramento Bee Columnist
Published 12:00 am PDT Friday, September 8, 2006
Story appeared in MAIN NEWS section, Page A3
Those who wage political war over gay rights don't appreciate noncombatants, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is learning as he deals with a flurry of measures passed by a pro-gay rights Legislature.
Equality California hailed the passage of 14 bills in 2005-06, saying it "broke the record for the most lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights bills ever passed by a state legislature in our nation's history."
As the session ended, Schwarzenegger had already signed four bills and vetoed two others -- including one sanctioning same-sex marriage -- but had eight remaining, and his shades-of-gray approach to the issue had left both of the warring factions uncertain.
When Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 1441, which adds "sexual orientation" to the state's nondiscrimination statutes, the red flags went up among the "pro-family" groups that oppose efforts by the "pro-equality" organizations to expand gay rights, and they redoubled efforts to flood Schwarzenegger's office with e-mails and phone calls seeking vetoes of other bills.
Proponents, meanwhile, saw the signature as a sign that he might approve another measure by the same state senator, Santa Monica Democrat Sheila Kuehl, that would prohibit classroom instruction that "reflects adversely" on anyone because of his or her sexual orientation -- even though Schwarzenegger had previously indicated he would veto it.
Even though Kuehl had removed provisions requiring positive views of LGBT persons to be presented, Schwarzenegger did veto the bill this week, declaring that it "attempts to offer vague protection when current law already provides clear protection against discrimination in our schools based on sexual orientation. ..."
Pro-gay rights groups were vocally dismayed, of course. "Yet again, this governor has shown that he will play politics with our lives when a few extremists yell loud enough," said Geoff Kors, Equality California's executive director. But those occupying trenches on the other side of no-man's land didn't especially appreciate the veto. "That's good, but what about the two other sexual indoctrination bills ..." said Randy Thomasson, president of Campaign for Children and Families, reiterating a demand that "the governor must veto all three ... or the people will veto him."
Of the seven gay rights bills still awaiting Schwarzenegger's acceptance or rejection, Assembly Bill 606 is considered to be the most important by those on both sides. The measure, carried by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, would require the state schools superintendent to develop an anti-harassment and anti-discrimination program centered on sexual orientation, and allow state support to be withheld for school districts lax in adopting it. During a rally on the Capitol steps this week, Robla School District Board President Craig DeLuz labeled AB 606 "the worst of all of them."
The other bills generating heat include those to create a pilot program for encouraging tolerance of those "individuals and groups that have been, and continue to be, systematically and historically marginalized"; to add a survey on bullying and harassment based on "race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation" to a current survey of public school students about alcohol and drug use; and to allow domestic partners to file joint state income tax returns.
Schwarzenegger will probably veto some contested measures and sign others. He appears to lean against gay rights measures involving schoolchildren, but toward those that bar discrimination or enhance equality -- short of marriage -- for LGBT Californians in the larger society.
The question, of course, is whether positioning himself in no-man's land and dodging bullets from both sides help or hurt him in his quest for a second term. And all-in-all, it aligns him with the mainstream of voter ambivalence about gay rights.
As much as they may dislike Schwarzenegger's signing SB 1441 and other bills, those on the anti-gay rights side know that were he to lose to Democratic challenger Phil Angelides, the full gay rights agenda would be quickly enacted. Pro-gay rights blocs, meanwhile, are likely to already be committed to Angelides, so the downside political risk for Schwarzenegger is minimal.
About the writer:
Reach Dan Walters at (916) 321-1195 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Back columns: www.sacbee.com/walters.