Breaking news: Schwarzenegger vows to veto marriage bill
by Matthew S. Bajko
A bill to allow same-sex marriages in California would be dead on arrival if it lands on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk this year. So pledged the governor on Thursday, February 15 in response to a question from a high school student at the California YMCA Youth and Government conference.
Asked if he would sign a gay marriage bill, the governor replied, "No. I wouldn't sign it because the people of California have voted on that issue."
The governor was obliquely referring to the passage of Proposition 22 in 2000 to limit marriage to a man and a woman. The measure only applied to out-of-state marriages; state lawmakers had already restricted marriages performed in California to between a man and woman in the 1970s.
Schwarzenegger, a Republican who has shifted noticeably to the center, cited the same initiative in vetoing in 2005 a same-sex marriage bill by Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). Leno is pushing a similar bill, AB43, this year, and has already lined up enough support to ensure passage in the legislature.
According to an account of the governor's remarks reported by the Sacramento Bee Friday, Schwarzenegger also said that if another gay marriage measure goes on the California ballot in the future, "the people can make the decision."
"They should make the decision," he said. "But it should not be me or the legislature."
The comments came as a surprise, considering chatter stemming from the Capitol and amid gay Republican circles since Schwarzenegger's January swearing-in ceremony indicated that the governor was more amenable to signing Leno's bill this year. His friend, the actor Tom Arnold, indicated as much to reporters and the new California director of Log Cabin Republicans wrote on his blog he was in talks about the bill with Schwarzenegger's chief of staff, out lesbian Susan Kennedy,
James Vaughn, the gay Republican group's West Coast field director, said he was "disappointed by what was said" but added the comments were made in the context of the governor waiting for the courts to rule."
The governor's stance is not the endpoint in the fight for marriage equality, he added.
"We want to make sure we keep the dialogue open with anyone. Our community should keep an open mind whether it is with presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Rudy Giuliani, or the governor," sad Vaughn. "They are all in the same boat when it comes to their views on this issue."
Reached Friday morning, Leno said there was an "element of surprise" to Schwarzenegger's veto pledge.
"What a strange audience to say it to. He certainly wasn't playing to that audience; that audience supports marriage equality," said Leno.
Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, the LGBT advocacy group that is a co-sponsor of the marriage bill, said he was taken aback by the governor's veto pledge.
"We are extremely disappointed by the governor's comments. We believed that the governor would wait until the bill moved forward until making a comment and would be willing to meet with us, the author, and lesbian and gay couples and their children so he understood the harm and pain that comes from excluding people from marriage," he said.
Kors questioned if Schwarzenegger understands of state laws or even the impact of his position on gay families.
"You have to wonder if the governor really understands our system of government where the constitution ensures the equal protection of all people and makes clear that minority rights are protected," he said. "We don't operate with mob rule."
"You have to wonder how he would feel if his ability to marry the first lady was put up for a vote of the people," added Kors. "He really needs to think about what he is saying and how it would impact him or his family if he were denied marrying the person he loved."
Despite the governor's stated opposition to the bill, both Leno and gay rights groups vowed to press forward with the fight for marriage equality. They held out hope that the governor could be convinced to change his mind.
"Given that we have not even begun our conversation, not had a chance to meet with him, or his administration, I consider the process just beginning," said Leno. "What our intention is is to have a chance for the governor to meet some families, some children, some couples who can tell him their human life experiences as they suffer the inequity of current law. These are such powerful stories, I think they will have important information fro the governor in his decision-making process."
Kors said EQCA would use the next seven months as the bill makes it way through the legislature to educate the governor on the issue.
"We hope he will meet with us," he said, "and more carefully consider his position."
Log Cabin's Vaughn said no matter the fate of Leno's bill, it is the public that will ultimately decide if same-sex couples will be allowed to marry. He also did not rule out persuading the governor to change his position.
"This is going to end up on the ballot at some point anyway, regardless if the governor vetoes or signs any bill," said Vaughn. "It is an ongoing conversation with the governor and the people of California we will keep working with the governor's office to respond to his concerns."