Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Gov signs Milk, marriage bills


The late Supervisor Harvey Milk finally gets his day. Photo: Dan Nicoletta
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In a surprise for supporters of the late San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger late Sunday signed a bill that will designate May 22 – Milk's birthday – as Harvey Milk Day, a day of special significance.

The governor also signed a bill that resolves ambiguities about how out-of-state same-sex marriages will be recognized in California.

The approval of the bills, both authored by openly gay state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) was unexpected.

Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar Milk Day bill last year, stating that Milk's contributions were better recognized at the local level.

But in what has turned out to be a busy year for Milk's legacy – he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in August and actor Sean Penn won a best actor award at the Oscars for his portrayal of the gay rights leader in the movie Milk – the governor apparently had a change of heart and signed the legislation.

The expectation that the governor would sign the bill this year increased after he and his wife, Maria Shriver, announced that Milk would be inducted into the California Hall of Fame in December. However, anti-gay groups reportedly flooded the governor's office with calls urging him to veto both the Milk bill and the marriage legislation.

"It is certainly appropriate the first openly gay elected official in our state, someone who literally gave his life in service to his community, should be recognized in this way," Leno told the Bay Area Reporter.

Schwarzenegger was not available for comment but his spokesman, Aaron McLear, told the Sacramento Bee, "The governor believes Harvey Milk has come to symbolize the gay community in California, and he wanted to honor the importance of and contributions of the gay community."

Equality California, the statewide LGBT rights organization, sponsored the bill and has worked for two years on getting it signed into law.

"We're just really thrilled that this day has come," said Alice Kessler, EQCA's chief lobbyist. "This is historic. It's the first time in our country's history that a member of the LGBT community has been honored like this. And to have a Republican governor signing this bill shows equality is not just a partisan issue."

Stuart Milk, Milk's openly gay nephew, also was appreciative of the governor's action.

"I'm very proud of the Legislature and proud of the governor for signing it against a tremendous onslaught of folks who didn't want him to, and I'm particularly proud of the people who sent in e-mails and Twitters and flooded the governor's office in support of the bill," said Stuart Milk.

While many in the community were surprised the bill became law, Kessler said EQCA wasn't.

"We really lobbied this bill from every angle," she said. "Given all the hard work that went into this I wasn't totally shocked."

Stuart Milk praised EQCA and Leno, saying the senator is "very much a politician in the style of my uncle."

EQCA Executive Director Geoff Kors said that the Milk Day bill would mean that state residents are likely to learn more about him.

"So often our history has been left out of the history books," Kors told the B.A.R. "This bill will ensure we remember and honor Harvey Milk the way we honor Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez."

The Milk Day bill is not a state holiday and Leno noted that his legislation mandates only that the governor each year proclaim May 22 as Harvey Milk Day.

"It doesn't require anything of schools," stated Leno, "but it certainly affords an educational opportunity to understand who Harvey Milk was and continues to be in the struggle for LGBT rights. He was also a champion of neighborhoods of workers' rights and for the dignity and respect of all people."

Leno also noted what Harvey Milk Day will mean to the memory of San Francisco's late mayor, George Moscone, who was assassinated along with Milk by former San Francisco Supervisor Dan White on November 27, 1978.

"It's a completely appropriate remembrance

State Senator Mark Leno. Photo: Rick Gerharter
given the close relationship that Mayor Moscone had with Harvey," Leno said. "If anything I think it acknowledges the friendship and respect they had for one another."

Stuart Milk also mentioned the Moscone family.

"I know the Moscone family because we have stood together in the cold, myself and Gina and Rebecca Moscone, our families stood to remember before there was a Cleve Jones or Lance Black or Sean Penn. We have shared the remembrance of not just our loss and not just their loss but our collective loss. And we will continue to do that every November 27," Milk said, referring to one of Milk's proteges, and the openly gay screenwriter of Milk, who also won an Academy Award this year.

Marriage bill

Leno's bill to establish the legal status of out-of-state marriages was also signed into law by the governor despite aggressive lobbying by marriage equality opponents.

The bill clarifies that same-sex couples who married outside of California before Proposition 8 went into effect November 5, 2008, are recognized as married spouses as are the 18,000 same-sex marriages performed in California.

The legislation also confirms that same-sex couples who married outside California after Prop 8 went into effect, or plan to do so in the future, must receive the same rights, protections, benefits, obligations, and responsibilities afforded to opposite-sex spouses, with the sole exception of the designation of "marriage."

"I applaud the governor for ending the legal limbo in which many married same-sex couples are finding themselves. When California offered marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2008, spouses who were already married in another state or country were prohibited from re-marrying in California," Leno said in a statement. "Now those couples and their families will receive the rights and protections under the law to which they are entitled. This legislation ensures that same-sex couples are protected by existing California law that recognizes all marriages equally, regardless of where they are performed."

Schwarzenegger's message at his signing of the bill, SB 54, referred to the legislation as necessary legal clarification that "honors" the voters' passage of Proposition 8.

"Following the passage of Proposition 8, there has been some uncertainty as to how California should treat same-sex couples that married out-of-state while same-sex marriage was legal in California," the governor stated. "Consistent with the California Supreme Court's decision that upheld the validity of those in-state marriages entered into prior to the passage of Proposition 8, Senate Bill 54 clarifies that California must also recognize as married couples that legally married in another state during the same period of time in which same-sex marriage was legal in California."

Conservatives considered the governor's signing of the Milk Day bill a betrayal by a Republican governor. Randy Thomasson, president of the conservative coalition Save California, released a statement characterizing Milk as a "public liar" and sexual predator who was in "no way a good role model for impressionable schoolchildren."

Other bills

Schwarzenegger also signed a bill by openly gay Assemblyman John Perez (D-Los Angeles) that will increase and expand services to LGBT survivors of domestic violence. It will go into effect January 1.

However, the governor vetoed a bill that would have allowed transgender people who have left the state to request a current birth certificate reflecting their correct gender. He also vetoed a bill that would have directed the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to consider sexual orientation in the housing of prisoners.

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