California state senator William "Pete" Knight (R-Palmdale)--author of Proposition 22, the California law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and the architect of several antigay lawsuits--now says that he would "support something short of marriage" for same-sex couples if gay rights activists would stop pushing for equal marriage rights. The surprising change of heart has been hailed by some activists as evidence that the same-sex marriage movement is gaining momentum. Knight made his comments during a recent meeting with Equality California, a state-level gay rights group; he then repeated them to a reporter for the Sacramento News and Review. "The fact that Senator Knight, a man who has spent many years fighting to prevent families headed by lesbian and gay couples from obtaining any legal rights, has shifted his position demonstrates his acknowledgement that most Californians do not support his extreme position," said Geoffrey Kors, executive director of Equality California. "His move toward allowing rights and benefits for same-sex couples in exchange for our accepting some form of second-class status for our relationships is a clear sign that he realizes that the march toward equality cannot be stopped."
Just last year Knight was denied a request for a preliminary injunction to stop California's groundbreaking domestic-partnership law from going into effect, and he failed to garner sufficient signatures to put that measure on the ballot in an attempt to repeal it. "The fact that the politician who has been the leader of the movement to deny same-sex couples legal recognition is now willing to accept domestic partnership demonstrates that the entire debate has shifted and that we are heading in the right direction," Kors said. EQCA's legislative advocate, Steve Hansen, met with Knight and his staff on March 24 to discuss the EQCA-sponsored Marriage License Non-Discrimination Act, which proposes full legal marriage rights for same-sex couples in California. It was in this discussion that Knight first announced that he would support rights for same-sex couples, such as those set forth in California's sweeping domestic-partnership registry, if these couples would accept "second-class status" by ending their fight for equal marriage rights.
In an April 8 Sacramento News and Review article titled "Wedding Present" by Jeff Kerns, Knight confirmed his new position and indicated that he could do "nothing" to stop EQCA's Marriage License Non-Discrimination Act from being passed if Democrats in the state legislature supported it. Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has indicated that he has no problem with same-sex marriage, but he has not taken a position on the bill.