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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
September 9, 2005

California lawmakers are first to pass gay marriage

Sacramento, Calif.--Five days after the state Senate approved it, legislation allowing same-sex marriage squeaked by the Assembly on September 6.

The passage makes California�s the only state legislature to approve same-sex marriage without being ordered to by a court. Massachusetts is currently the only state that allows it.

The bill, put forward by openly gay Assemblyman Mark Leno, got 41 votes from Democrats and none from Republicans in the Assembly. Four Democrats voted against it, and two abstained.

An identical bill fell four votes short in the Assembly last June. In this vote, four Democratic Assembly members who abstained in June switched their votes.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has not said if he will veto the measure. However, he said that the place where the matter should be decided is the courts.

A San Francisco judge ruled in favor of same-sex marriage last spring, and that case is being appealed. It challenges Proposition 22, a �defense of marriage� ballot initiative that passed with 62% of the vote five years ago.

�The people spoke with Proposition 22, and that is now in the courts,� said Schwarzenegger spokesperson Margita Thompson. �The governor believes that is where it belongs and will uphold any decisions the courts make.�

Schwarzenegger has 30 days to sign or veto the bill, or let it become law without his signature.

His stated position runs counter to the opinions of many on the right, who believe that the courts have undertaken a campaign of redefining marriage wherever they can. Christian conservatives have railed against �activist judges� since the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in 2003.

Supporters of the measure say that Proposition 22 does not apply to the new bill, since the ballot initiative says only that California is not required to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

While Proposition 22 garnered 62% of the vote five years ago, a half-decade of advances in civil rights and the approval of same-sex marriage in Spain, Canada, the Netherlands and Belgium have eroded support for banning it. Recent polls show the state evenly divided, with 46% supporting and opposing full same-sex marriage.

Leno breathed new life into the marriage bill with a �gut-and-amend� move that replaced a marine spending bill already before the Senate. When it passed that body, also on a primarily party-line vote, members of the Assembly who had been heavily lobbied made good on their promises to switch their votes from abstentions to �ayes.�

�Today in California, love conquered fear, principle conquered politics and equality conquered injustice,� said Geoffrey Kors, the executive director of Equality California.

His opposite on the anti-gay side urged the governor to veto the measure.

�Eighty percent of Republicans voted to protect marriage on the ballot five years ago. Schwarzenegger can�t afford to sign the �gay marriage license� bill,� said Randy Thomasson, president of the Campaign for Children and Families, the group backing one of two state marriage ban amendments.

One Republican who did not vote for Proposition 22, however, is California Republican Central Committee member Brian Bennett.

�At last, righteous voices have found courageous votes,� Bennett said. �Our legislature didn�t wait to be ordered to do the right thing, it just did it. And now the public is beginning to understand that this is about having the necessary protections and responsibilities needed to love, strengthen and provide for our families.�

California already provides many of the benefits and responsibilities of marriage under a series of domestic partnership laws, which have been challenged under Proposition 22.


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