Updated Sept. 8, 11:07 EDT
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (BP)–California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will veto an historic bill that would have legalized “gay marriage” in the state, his press secretary said Sept. 7.
The state Assembly passed the bill Sept. 6 by a mostly party-line vote of 41-35, sending it to the desk of Schwarzenegger, who previously had not taken a public position on it. Voting against the bill were 31 Republicans and four Democrats. No Republican supported it.
Conservatives blasted the bill as unconstitutional and as defying the will of the people. Just five years ago, voters overwhelmingly approved an initiative (Proposition 22) protecting traditional marriage by a margin of 61-39 percent.
“The people voted and the issue is now before the courts,” Schwarzenegger Press Secretary Margita Thompson said in a statement. “The Governor believes the matter should be determined not by legislative action — which would be unconstitutional — but by court decision or another vote of the people of our state. We cannot have a system where the people vote and the Legislature derails that vote. Out of respect for the will of the people, the Governor will veto AB 849.”
The bill — which would have changed the definition of marriage in state family code to read “two persons” instead of “a man and a woman” — had passed the state Senate Sept. 1 by a vote of 21-15. In both the Assembly and Senate, it received the minimum votes required for passage.
No legislative body in U.S. history had ever passed such a bill.
A lawsuit that would legalize “same-sex marriage” is making its way through the California courts. In March a lower court judge struck down Proposition 22, saying it violates the state Constitution. The ruling is being appealed. California is one of eight states involved in “gay marriage” lawsuits.
Attorneys for two conservatives groups, the Alliance Defense Fund and Liberty Counsel, told Baptist Press that if Schwarzenegger signed the bill, their respective organizations were prepared to file suit.
Pro-family groups applauded Schwarzenegger’s announcement.
“We thank the governor for understanding the constitutional restrictions on the legislature and announcing he will respect the peoples’ vote to protect marriage licenses for a man and a woman,” Randy Thomasson, president of Campaign for Children and Families, said in a statement. “The governor has spared himself and average Californians much grief with his quick decision.”
The California Family Council called the veto announcement a “tremendous victory” but warned that the issue will come up again in the future. When a different governor occupies the office, the organization warned, the result could be different.
“We can count on our activist legislators, like activist judges, ignoring our votes and our voices,” a statement on the group’s website read.
Geoffrey Kors, executive director of the homosexual activist group Equality California, said Schwarzenegger “let us down.” He urged the governor to reconsider.
“He has to make a decision on what he wants his legacy to be; we hope that he will not go down in history as ‘The Discriminator,'” Kors said in a statement.
Two separate pro-family coalitions — VoteYesMarriage.com and ProtectMarriage.com — are hoping to collect enough signatures to place a marriage amendment on the ballot in 2006. An amendment would trump any court ruling and any law.
“The only way we can guarantee that this does not happen again is to enact a constitutional amendment protecting marriage,” the California Family Council said.
Schwarzenegger has walked a fine line on homosexual issues. For instance, he supports the state’s domestic partner law, which gives homosexual couples most of the benefits of marriage. Conservatives have called the bill “marriage lite.”
“He believes that gay couples are entitled to full protection under the law and should not be discriminated against based upon their relationship,” Thompson said in her statement. “He is proud that California provides the most rigorous protections in the nation for domestic partners.”
Massachusetts remains the only state to recognize “gay marriage,” although it became legal there through a court order.
“[The legislature’s action] definitely provides the impetus to get the California Marriage Amendment on the ballot,” Erik Stanley, chief counsel of Liberty Counsel, told Baptist Press. “This makes it even clearer that the legislature doesn’t care what the people say. They’re going to do what they want to do.”
Jordan Lorence, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, said the bill’s passage could be a “catalyst for the amendment push.”
The California Constitution prohibits the legislature from reversing a voter-approved initiative. Article II, Section 10 of the state constitution says that the legislature “may amend or repeal an initiative statute … only when approved by the electors.”
Assembly sponsor Mark Leno, an open homosexual, has argued that Proposition 22 only bans out-of-state “marriages” but not in-state ones. Under that interpretation, his bill would be constitutional.
But Lorence said Leno’s argument conflicts with the political debate in 2000 over Proposition 22.
“The homosexual activists were totally opposed to Proposition 22 because they said it would outlaw same-sex marriage,” Lorence told BP. “No one was saying, on either side, that this is a narrow piece of legislation that has only modest goals to prevent recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages.”
Stanley called Leno’s reasoning “ridiculous.”
“The language in Proposition 22 is very clear,” Stanley said.
Proposition 22 states that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
The bill’s passage bucked a nationwide trend, as many states consider constitutional amendments banning “same-sex marriage.”
Last summer a California Assembly committee passed a similar bill, becoming the first legislative committee in the U.S. to do so. It failed to receive a floor vote in 2004, but Leno brought it back this year. After it failed to pass the Assembly on three separate votes earlier this summer — getting support from 37 members on the final vote — Leno refused to give up, opting instead to try and revive the issue in the Senate. His strategy worked, and the momentum gained from Senate passage persuaded enough Assembly Democrats to change their votes.
A Schwarzenegger veto surely will please conservatives, although his previous statements on the issue have been out of line with social conservative thought.
Last summer he was in a restaurant when a homosexual man asked the Republican governor his opinion about “gay marriage.” As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Schwarzenegger replied: “My opinion is that I don’t care one way or the other.” In an appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” in March 2004, Schwarzenegger said he supported Proposition 22 but would have no problem if courts overturned it.
“No, I don’t have a problem. Let the court decide. Let the people decide,” Schwarzenegger said.
He also told Leno that he opposed a marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Schwarzenegger’s comments to Leno came as the city of San Francisco issued marriage licenses to homosexual couples in defiance of state law. The California Supreme Court subsequently invalidated the licenses.
For more information about the national debate over “gay marriage,” visit http://www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage