California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger told Jay Leno during Monday's edition of The Tonight Show that it would be "fine with me" if state law were changed to permit same-sex marriages. Schwarzenegger, who won the gubernatorial recall election last November, also strongly rejected President Bush's call for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. "I think those issues should be left to the state, so I have no use for a constitutional amendment or change in that at all," he told Leno. But the governor reiterated his opposition to the decision by San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, deriding city officials for violating current state law. When Leno asked, "Would you have any problem if they changed the law?" the governor replied, "No, I don't have a problem. Let the court decide. Let the people decide." Schwarzenegger said he is open to the idea of an initiative to legalize same-sex marriage, even though voters in 2000 approved Proposition 22, which limits marriage to a man and a woman in the state. "If the people change their minds and they want to overrule that, that's fine with me," he said.
State assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who is no relation to Jay Leno, introduced a bill in February to legalize gay marriage in California. The assemblyman said he was pleased to hear that the governor opposes a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. But, he said, he saw Schwarzenegger's statement "Let the court decide. Let the people decide" as contradictory. "Constitutional issues need to be reviewed and decided by courts and not left to majority opinion polls or cast ballots," Leno told the Los Angeles Times. "Otherwise, few in this country would have any civil rights."
The author of Proposition 22, Sen. William "Pete" Knight (R-Palmdale), said he was surprised by Schwarzenegger's comments and disappointed by the governor's overall handling of the gay marriage issue. If Schwarzenegger announced support for gay marriage legislation, it would pass, Knight added. "If he says he'll sign it," Knight told the Times, "it'll whistle through there."
Schwarzenegger's interview with Leno was the first indication that the governor is not opposed to gay marriage on a moral level and that if Californians wanted to change the law, he would not be an obstacle. When asked, Schwarzenegger has spoken in favor of gay rights since his days as a bodybuilder in the 1970s. He has also expressed support for California's existing domestic-partnership law. But as governor he has largely sidestepped questions about the fairness of barring same-sex couples from marrying, the Times reported. His only previous statement, during a recall campaign interview with talk-show host Sean Hannity, appeared to be a malapropism: "I think that gay marriage is something that should be between a man and a woman." Asked last week if he had voted for Proposition 22 when it was on the ballot in 2000, the governor said, "I'll be honest with you--I can't remember."