Republican California gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon's answers to a questionnaire indicating he has softened his position on domestic-partnership laws prompted angry responses Wednesday from conservative backers and a demand from gay activists that he retract previous antigay stands.
Before the GOP primary, Simon signed a pledge stating that domestic-partner benefits belong exclusively to married couples. But on the questionnaire circulated by a gay Republican group he said he supports such laws if they apply to any two people who choose to live together, including gays. Simon responded to the Log Cabin Republicans' questionnaire earlier this month. In the survey, Simon also said he would proclaim a gay pride day, as past administrations have done, and promised to uphold a variety of gay-friendly laws and regulations.
The Campaign for California Families, which circulated the pledge that Simon signed before the primary, called Simon's responses shocking. "I spent months with Bill Simon touring Anglo and Hispanic churches where he vowed support for traditional values," said the Reverend Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition. "His responses on this questionnaire tell me otherwise."
Meanwhile, gay rights group the California Alliance for Pride and Equality has issued a statement demanding that Simon retract previous antigay comments and remove his signature from the antigay pledge. "While we would welcome a change in Simon's previous strongly antigay position, we question his sincerity,'" stated Geoffrey Kors, interim executive director of CAPE. "If Bill Simon is truly interested in protecting same-sex and other unmarried relationships, CAPE demands that he renounce his signature on the Marriage Protection Pledge. The people of California deserve to know the truth about where Simon stands on the issue of protecting gay and lesbian families."
Simon labeled himself a conservative in the primary but has attempted since then to court moderates and independents, who could help him unseat incumbent Democratic governor Gray Davis in November. According to poll results released Thursday by the independent Public Policy Institute of California, Davis has an 11-point lead over Simon.
The GOP candidate denies that his answers on the questionnaire represent a flip-flop. "I don't feel I've changed my position at all," he said. His campaign said that when Simon signed the antigay pledge it was in the context of a law Davis signed last year granting rights to same-sex couples and unmarried opposite-sex couples over the age of 62. Simon opposed the law because it was based on sexual orientation, the campaign said, but he has always supported domestic-partnership laws that would apply to any two people who choose to live together, like elderly brothers.