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Calif. students to learn about gay pioneer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (BP)–Students in many of California’s public schools next year will be learning about homosexual pioneer Harvey Milk under a bill signed into law Sunday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that commemorates the life of the late politician and makes May 22 “Harvey Milk Day.”

Schwarzenegger signed the bill, S.B. 572, on the last possible day he could, frustrating conservatives who had lobbied the Republican governor to veto it. Schwarzenegger vetoed an almost identical bill last year but was under more pressure to sign it in light of a movie about Milk and after President Obama awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously to Milk, the nation’s first openly homosexual person elected to public office. Milk was a San Francisco city supervisor who was assassinated in 1978 by another supervisor.

Although observation of Harvey Milk Day is optional, many schools and teachers in the left-leaning state no doubt will take advantage of the opportunity. The text of the new law says “all public schools and educational institutions are encouraged to observe” the day.

The law further says it would be appropriate to have “exercises remembering the life of Harvey Milk, recognizing his accomplishments, and familiarizing pupils with the contributions he made to this state.” The law commemorates Milk with what the state calendar calls a day of “significance.” The only other such days are the Day of the Teacher (second Wednesday of May), John Muir Day (April 21) and California Poppy Day (April 6). May 22 is Milk’s birthday.

Schwarzenegger also signed a bill, S.B. 54, that allows the state to recognize “gay marriages” from other states if they were performed during the nearly five months it was legal in 2008.

The Harvey Milk bill, in fact, could impact any future debate about “gay marriage” legalization in California. Public schools — and what is and is not taught in them — were at the forefront of last year’s campaign to pass Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment that prohibited the redefinition of marriage.

Ron Prentice, the executive director of ProtectMarriage.com, which promoted Prop 8, sent an e-mail to supporters Monday telling constituents, “You may remember that during the Prop 8 campaign those pushing for homosexual marriage proclaimed that school children would not be forced to learn about homosexuality and same-sex marriage. But now, every school district in California is encouraged to honor Harvey Milk specifically for his sexual orientation.”

Prentice added, “Governor Schwarzenegger, instead of acting on behalf of children and the vast majority of parents who want their children protected from indoctrination in the public schools, has instead folded his tent to the pressures of special-interest.”

Schwarzenegger did not issue a signing statement, although spokesman Aaron McLear told the Associated Press that Milk “has become much more of a symbol of the gay community than he was a year ago because of those things [the movie and the White House recognition]. That made the difference from last year: he’s really come to symbolize the gay community in California.”

Randy Thomasson, an opponent of the law and the president of SaveCalifornia.com, had said Milk’s sexual escapades made him unfit to be pushed as a role model. Thomasson’s press release quoted from “The Mayor of Castro Street,” a popular biography about Milk. Milk was 48 when he died but always had a desire for teen boys and men in their early 20s, the book says. He also advocated having multiple partners, it says.

Although Schwarzenegger pleased conservatives in past years by twice vetoing bills that would legalize “gay marriage,” he now supports “gay marriage.” He opposed Prop 8 and has done little in the past year that social conservatives support.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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