Governor Schwarzenegger can impede the progress toward equal marriage rights, and he did exactly that.
But he canâ€™t defeat the cause of marriage equality.
The dramatic ride of Assembly Bill 849, The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act (Leno, D-San Francisco), came to a screeching halt on Thursday when Schwarzenegger fulfilled his repeated threats to veto the bill. In early September, in a pair of landmark votes, the California Legislature became the first legislative body in U.S. history to pass equal-marriage legislation for same-sex couples, garnering 62 votes between the Assembly and the Senate.
And then the bill was carjacked by the Governor.
In the letter to the State Assembly announcing his decision, Schwarzenegger said that he believes that the Legislature overreached its authority in enacting the bill, claiming it reverses the will of voters who approved Proposition 22 in 2000, banning recognition of same-sex marriages from other states. The Governor deliberately ignores the fact that the San Francisco Superior Court has ruled that law to be unconstitutional and instead is using the Legislatureâ€™s historic vote for equality as a weapon to convince right-wing voters to support his ill-conceived legislative redistricting initiative.
Continuing his letter to the Assembly, the Governor truly exposes himself as being just the kind of a poll-driven, double speaking politics-as-usual governor that he said he wouldnâ€™t be. Following his veto message, the Governor contradicts himself by stating that â€ślesbian and gay couples are entitled to full protection under the law and should not be discriminated against based upon their relationships.â€ť
Governor Schwarzenegger, the marriage equality bill presented you with a sterling opportunity to back up your commitment to the rights of lesbian and gay couples with a simple stroke of the pen.
Gov. Schwarzenegger: What held you back?
You could have been the first governor in U.S. history to sign equal rights marriage legislation for same-sex couples. You could have risen to the stature of figures of the past who had the courage and conviction to push civil rights forward: great leaders such as Justice Thurgood Marshall, who, as a lawyer, argued Brown vs. the Board of Education before the U.S. Supreme Court and President Lyndon Johnson, who asked for and then signed landmark civil rights legislation in 1964 and 1965. Instead, you chose to become the first governor in history to veto equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Gov. Schwarzenegger: Why did you swat away our rights?
We at Equality California, the organization that sponsored AB 849, believe that marriage equality is inevitable. We know you believe it as well. But that does not mean that marriage equality wonâ€™t be hard-won when it finally happens. Anti-gay extremists, with the support of the majority Republican legislators, are gathering signatures for initiatives that would not only prohibit the courts or Legislature from ending discrimination in the marriage laws, but would also eliminate existing legal protections currently provided by law to domestic partners, including rights enacted with the Governorâ€™s signature last year.
These initiatives would mock the Governorâ€™s pledge in his statement on Thursday to â€śvigorously defendâ€ť domestic partnership rights and to provide gay and lesbian couples â€śfull protection under the law.â€ť
Governor Schwarzenegger: When will you finally condemn these mean-spirited initiatives and urge Californians not to sign these petitions?
During his State of the State address in January, the Governor boldly and correctly stated that â€śpolitical courage is not political suicide.â€ť Â It is truly a disappointment that he declined to follow those words with courageous acts. California voters will soon get to send the Governor a different message, one that John Kerry learned the hard way: Â Political cowardice is political suicide.
Yesterdayâ€™s veto has blocked progress on this yearâ€™s bill, but the momentum behind the marriage equality movement will continue to build. Clip out those newspaper headlines that say â€śSCHWARZENEGGER VETOES GAY MARRIAGE BILLâ€ť and stuff them in a drawer. In the not-too-distant future, you may come across those clips and wonder what the fuss over equal marriage rights in 2005 was all about.
Governor Schwarzenegger: Weâ€™ll be back.
Geoffrey Kors is Executive Director of Equality California. Founded in 1998, Equality California is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots-based, statewide advocacy organization whose mission is to ensure the dignity, safety, equality and civil rights of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Californians. Equality California is one of the largest and fastest-growing statewide LGBT organizations in the country. We can be contacted through our website at www.eqca.org