Editors' Note: Guest blogger Geoff Kors is the Executive Director of Equality California.
It's been a stunning year in California. We've seen partisan gridlock and a budget showdown that led to millions of dollars being cut from critical programs that keep our state thriving -- programs like HIV/AIDS services and education, children's health insurance and Medicaid. All of these programs affect the lives of LGBT individuals and their families in the state, and we've fought hard to prevent and minimize these cuts.
At the same time, we've been fighting hard to expand rights for LGBT Californians. In spite of the dire situation in the state, we've been able to pass a record 11 pieces of legislation. Another six bills have either passed their first house or a key committee and will continue to move forward when the legislature meets again in January. These 17 bills have progressed thanks to thousands of hours of work by Equality California supporters and staff -- especially including the talents and drive of EQCA's Government Affairs Director, Alice Kessler.
Perhaps not incidentally, this year also saw our community's largest Lobby Day in state history: over 1000 people came to Sacramento to tell their policymakers why our rights matter. And nearly 40,000 of you signed our petition to the governor to sign a bill establishing Harvey Milk Day in California, while countless others called and tweeted him your support. You also took repeated action to fight budget cuts and preserve our community's critical infrastructure.
Here are a few quick highlights from this year's legislation, all of which are waiting for the Governor's signature:
- SB 572 would commemorate May 22 of each year as Harvey Milk Day. In spite of anti-gay extremists intent on burying Harvey's legacy, your support helped us get the bill past the legislature. Keep calling Governor Schwarzenegger at 916-445-2841 and ask him to sign the bill. It's time to give Harvey the full honor he deserves.
- The Equal ID Act would allow transgender people born in California but living elsewhere to more easily correct their birth certificate, making it easier for them to work and travel.
- The LGBT Domestic Violence Programs Expansion Bill would help programs for LGBT survivors of domestic violence to access new funding and better serve their clients.
- The LGBT Prisoner Safety Act would require that sexual orientation and gender identity be considered in decisions on housing prisoners.
- SB 54 clarifies that same-sex couples who married out of state before November 4, 2008 are considered married. The bill also clarifies that same-sex couples who have married or will marry out of state since November 4, 2008 will have all the rights and responsibilities of married couples, without the word "marriage."
Back in January, we passed two resolutions, one in the Assembly and one in the Senate, putting our legislature on the record as opposing Proposition 8 as an improper revision of the California Constitution. We've also passed resolutions putting our legislature on record as supporting the passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act and a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Other resolutions that will progress in January support the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act; an end to the outdated Food and Drug Administration policy that bans healthy gay and bisexual men from donating blood; and passage of the Uniting American Families Act, which would keep bi-national same-sex couples together by allowing one partner to sponsor the other for immigration.
What's next? The resolutions have all passed, but the five bills -- on Harvey Milk Day, the status of couples married out of state, the Equal ID Act and the domestic violence bill -- are awaiting the signature of Governor Schwarzenegger. Then it is time to look ahead to next year. We already know we'll keep working to preserve the critical infrastructure and HIV/AIDS services that our community has labored so hard to establish. This is simply too important of a battle to lose.
What do you think our next legislative priorities should be? If you have a suggestion, please leave us a comment. Thanks for your commitment and hard work in building a state of equality in California!