Last night, for the second time, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the California marriage equality bill passed by the state legislature. It was expected, despite demonstrations and a massive outpouring of postcards urging him to sign the bill. LGBT Democrats and Republicans alike feel that - like his wife Maria Shriver - Schwarzenegger personally supports marriage for same sex couples. After all, he said as much on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and he is surrounded by advisors who happen to be gay and lesbian couples in long-term committed relationships.
But being a “post-partisan” Republican doesn’t mean unhitching from the one that brung ya. Schwarzenegger still needed to find a way to appease the right-wing base on marriage and the veto did the trick.
So now, taking him at his veto, perhaps the LGBT community should encourage him to be more like GOP hero Ronald Reagan when he was the governor of California and publicly oppose the antigay ballot initiatives coming down the pike.
First, let’s look at this veto. Two years ago, Schwarzenegger vetoed an identical bill, saying marriage should be decided by the courts and “the will of the people” as expressed in Prop. 22, the ballot measure voters passed in 2000 by a wide margin. Apparently, the governor does not believe the democratically-elected state representatives reflect the “will of the people,” though all who voted in favor of the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act (AB 43), authored by Assemblymember Mark Leno and sponsored by Equality California, won re-election.
Here’s Gov. Schwarzenegger’s veto message:
To the Members of the California State Assembly: I am returning Assembly Bill 43 without my signature. As I stated in vetoing similar legislation in 2005, I am proud California is a leader in recognizing and respecting domestic partnerships. I believe that all Californians are entitled to full protection under the law and should not be discriminated against based upon their sexual orientation. I support current domestic partnership rights and will continue to vigorously defend and enforce these rights. In 2000, the voters approved Proposition 22, a challenge to which is currently pending before the California Supreme Court. I maintain my position that the appropriate resolution to this issue is to allow the Court to rule on Proposition 22. The people of California should then determine what, if any, statutory changes are needed in response to the Court’s ruling. Sincerely, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Here’s Assemblymember Mark Leno’s response:
"The Governor's veto of AB 43 once again puts him on the wrong side of one of the major civil rights issues of this generation. History will record that he turned his back on thousands of gay and lesbian citizens when we needed him to show leadership and honor our families and relationships. A minority's equal rights should not and can not be a mere popularity contest, subject to the same kind of discriminatory inclinations that at another time in history have denied women, ethnic minorities and interracial couples their full equality. Some things are fundamental, like the freedom to marry the person you love. I am proud to be a part of the California Legislature, a majority of whom voted for the second time to treat everyone as a first class citizen in this free society. There will come a day, not too far off, that all of California's citizens will be treated equally and fairly in the eyes of our government. Unfortunately, this will happen despite Governor Schwarzenegger."
Here’s the response from Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California:
"Today, Gov. Schwarzenegger refused to lift the cloud of discrimination that hangs over millions of Californians and their families. With the people of California increasingly in support of marriage for same-sex couples and the Legislature once again affirming fairness and equality, the governor stands alone in perpetuating discrimination against same-sex couples. With the stroke of his pen, he has denied countless loving couples the joy and validation he and the First Lady experienced when they got married. Equality California will not rest until we have achieved full equality for the entire lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community."
Schwarzenegger did sign six LGBT bills on Friday, including two bills - The Student Civil Rights Act (SB 777), authored by Sen. Sheila Kuehl and The Safe Place to Learn Act (AB 394), authored by Assemblymember Lloyd Levine – that further protect LGBT and questioning youth.
Randy Thomasson, president of the antigay Campaign for Children and Families (CCF), had a conniption fit, headlining his press release: “Arnold Schwarzenegger Signs Bills Forcing Schools to Promote Transsexuality, Bisexuality, and Homosexuality to Five Year Olds.”
Thomasson, who is heading up one of the two antigay marriage ballot initiatives, did point out, however, that Schwarzenegger vetoed similar bills last year during his re-election campaign.
Which brings us back to Schwarzenegger’s veto message. There has been a shift in emphasis in which he stresses letting the court decide and regardless of the outcome of that ruling on the challenge to Prop. 22, he wrote, “The people of California should then determine what, if any, statutory [emphasis mine] changes are needed in response to the Court’s ruling.”
Statutory – not a ballot initiative to change the constitution of California which is now being proposed by Thomasson and Gail Knight, widow of Prop. 22 author Pete Knight.
Thommasson’s VoteYesMarriage.com aspires to placing his antigay constitutional amendment, which eliminates all legal protections for gay couples, on either the June or November ballot next year. He’s apparently supported by Traditional Values Coalition head Lou Sheldon, but it’s unclear how much money he actually has.
Knight’s ProtectMarriage.com, on the other hand, apparently has the backing of Focus on the Family’s James Dobson who is looking for an antigay horse to ride during the 2008 political season. Knight is supposed to be aiming for a Dec. 27 qualification for either the June or November ballot.
ProtectMarriage.com explained it this way in their August update:
“The California Supreme Court will be considering the validity of Proposition 22 in the spring of 2008 with a probable decision being rendered in early summer of 2008. In order to once and for all protect marriage in California – and not leave its definition to the whims of the courts and judiciary, ProtectMarriage.com is preparing to qualify a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in California....To date, we have submitted two versions of a constitutional amendment that would protect marriage as between one man and one woman. Polling has been conducted that indicates that either of these versions would pass in an election in California.”
Right now, California state law defines marriage as between a man and a woman, while Prop. 22 applies to recognition of out-of-state marriages. As Knight notes, a constitutional amendment trumps existing state law, a new law passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor and/or a court decision.
Bottom line: the proposed antigay marriage constitutional amendments are like the federal constitutional amendment proposed by President George W. Bush that was opposed by Democrats and many Republicans, including presidential candidates Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. And like them, Arnold Schwarzenegger should come out publicly in opposition to changing the state constitution – and like this veto message says, let the courts decide.
There is a GOP precedent for taking such a stand against such statewide discrimination – Ronald Reagan’s courageous stand against the antigay Brigg’s Initiative in 1978.
Read for yourself how Reagan’s position inspired another Republican to stand his ground against an antigay measure in Michigan. Here’s an excerpt from Republican Rep. Leon Drolet’s floor speech before the Michigan House of Representatives in 2004, as reproduced by the Liberty Education Forum:
“Americans have fought too long and too hard to eliminate constitutionally mandated discrimination against ethic groups, women, and other minorities. Already, polls show younger Americans are much more prone to support equal treatment under the law for homosexuals than older Americans. These young Americans, and history, will not judge this constitutional amendment well.
I ran for the state legislature because I believe that the size, scope and cost of government should be reduced. It is not the proper role of government to interfere with peoples' relationships, nor to discourage or encourage love or commitments between consenting adults who harm no one. This amendment is designed to demonstrate governmental disapproval of some peoples' relationships and will do nothing to protect or strengthen the marriages of heterosexual people.
Of course, initiatives like this amendment aren't new. Efforts to single out gays and lesbians for unequal treatment have been proposed and often adopted many times in the last 30 years. Back in 1978, a conservative state senator in California named John Briggs began an initiative to prohibit homosexuals from holding jobs as teachers. Now, I grant that this was California, but remember it was also 1978 and early polls showed 2 - 1 support for the Briggs Initiative. But something unexpected happened in August of that year, as the initiative headed toward a vote. The Governor of California wrote a newspaper editorial opposing the Briggs Initiative on the grounds that it singled out a group of people for unequal treatment under the law. The Governor wrote that the initiative had, "the potential of infringing on basic rights of privacy and perhaps even constitutional rights." Who was that 'activist' governor? Was it Governor Jerry 'Moonbeam' Brown? No, that governor was named Ronald Reagan. Governor Reagan's opposition to the Briggs Initiative is credited with turning the tide and when the final votes were cast, the Briggs Initiative was defeated. Writer Jonathan Rauch wrote in The New York Times that "Mr. Reagan single-handedly turned the tide against the measure."
For Reagan, on the cusp of launching his bid for President of the United States and asking for Republican delegate votes in Alabama and Mississippi, opposing the Briggs Initiative was a breathtakingly courageous act of principle. I will always admire and be inspired by Ronald Reagan's unswerving commitment to principle; whether standing up to an evil Soviet Empire, or standing against antigay ballot initiatives.”
Perhaps, like Drolet, Schwarzenegger can act like Reagan and courageously oppose the constitutional amendments before Dobson’s horse leaves the gate.