About 200 demonstrators laughed and cheered Tuesday night when Lorri Jean, CEO of the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, stuck a fake pen in the hand of a fake Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and urged him to sign California’s same-sex marriage rights bill.
Schwarzenegger has already said he would veto Assembly Bill 43 by openly gay San Francisco Assemblymember Mark Leno because it would overturn “the will of the people” expressed in a 2000 ballot initiative, Proposition 22, that underscored existing state law recognizing marriage as only “between a man and a woman” and barred recognition of same-sex marriages from other states.
Speakers at a rally outside the Center wanted to make sure the Republican governor – who is surrounded by openly gay Democrats, including his chief of staff Susan Kennedy – realizes that the “will of the people” includes LGBT people, too. It was one of 17 rallies held across the state.
After the rally, the excited 200 took to the streets, stopping traffic and ignoring the LAPD on Hollywood Boulevard as they marched to the Hollywood Guinness Museum and Schwarzenegger’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They tossed down more pens – to the delight of jostling TV camera crews – and then turned their attention to the honking cars passing by.
Schwarzenegger has until Oct. 14 to sign or veto the bill, or do nothing and let it become law without his signature.
Meanwhile, longtime activist Robin Tyler, who is a plaintiff with her partner Diane Olson in the consolidated marriage cases now before the California Supreme Court, called for Kennedy to resign for turning her back on her community. In 1999 Tyler attended Kennedy’s “same gender wedding” in Hawaii to her longtime partner, Vicki Marti. Kennedy, who is a conservative “Blue Dog Democrat,” used to work for Senator Dianne Feinstein and defended her when LGBT activists complained about Feinstein’s argument that gays were pushing for marriage rights too fast and too soon. Kennedy also defended Schwarzenegger when he vetoed the first marriage rights bill in 2005, agreeing that it was appropriate for the governor to defer to the 61% of Californians who backed Prop. 22.
What is so galling to so many is the belief that Schwarzenegger actually supports full marriage equality.
“I believe in his conscience, he is for full equality,” L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti told me. “I don’t think we’re hitting our head against the wall [with Schwarzenegger]. He’s been very gay-friendly. And there are many Californians who want him to act on his best impulses and not his worst fears.”
But what might those “worst fears” be? At the recent California Republican convention he flouted a GOP drive for a ballot measure that would drop the state’s “winner-take-all” electoral votes for a system that would grant presidential candidates electoral votes based on who won the congressional districts. So Schwarzenegger doesn’t appear to be afraid of the GOP base, especially since Republicans are not the Party in power.
And he can’t be afraid of his wife, Maria Shriver, a hardcore Democrat who supports marriage equality. Shriver knows something about the responsibilities of marriage, having stuck by her husband through widely publicized accusations of sexual harassment by several women.
For some reason, Schwarzenegger refuses to acknowledge that the “will of the people” is also achieved through their duly elected representatives in the state legislature. These are the representatives he called “girlie-men” at the GOP convention when he endorsed George W. Bush for re-election. And yet the majority of these representatives courageously proclaimed their support for marriage equality as they sought election or re-election.
So on Sept. 7 the legislature passed the marriage rights bill for the second time. Ten days later, the governor told reporters at a news conference in Sacramento:
It would be wrong for the people to vote for something, and for me to then overturn it. I don't do that, I will not do it. And so they can send that bill down as many times as they want, I won't do it.
But, activists note, Prop. 22 was passed seven years ago with 66% of the vote and times and opinions have changed. Last year’s Field Poll indicated that 50% of California’s registered voters oppose same-sex marriage, while 44% support it. In June 2006, a Public Policy Institute of California poll showed that 48% of likely voters opposed same sex marriage and 46% supported it. In January 2000, three months before Prop. 22 was passed, the same group’s poll reported that likely voters opposed same-sex marriage 55% to 38%.
The real discomfort is in Schwarzenegger’s agreement with the right wing that minority rights should be put up to a vote by the majority – and that constitutes the “will of the people.”
As Robin Tyler points out:
“In 1948, if California voters had been allowed to vote on inter-racial marriage when the California Supreme Court struck down the anti-miscegenation law and found in favor of inter-racial marriage, over 72% of the voters would have voted against it.
Leno made a similar comparison in comments to the San Francisco Chronicle, noting that in 1959, the California Legislature passed an inter-racial marriage bill despite a 1958 national Gallup Poll in which over 90% of white voters opposed giving blacks and whites the right to marry.
"If that had been put to a vote in California, it's quite likely the populace would have said 'No,' " Leno told the Chronicle. "Civil rights for any group should never be put to a vote of the people. This is how we prevent the tyranny of the majority over the minority."
So – given that this governor earned millions playing fictional heroes who defended the powerless from the powerful, what is Schwarzenegger’s worst fear, really? That he might look like a “girlie-man?” Perhaps he doesn’t know how to be a real-life hero.