Schwarzenegger’s legacy

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger can impede the movement for same-sex marriage rights, says the head of the gay rights group Equality California, but he can’t do anything to defeat it. We will win

BY Geoffrey Kors

October 05 2005 11:00 PM ET

The dramatic ride
of California’s Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage
Protection Act, authored by openly gay state assemblyman
Mark Leno, came to a screeching halt on September 29
when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger carried out a promise
to veto the bill. In early September, in a pair of
landmark votes, the California legislature became the first
legislative body in U.S. history to pass
equal-marriage legislation for same-sex couples,
garnering 62 votes between the assembly and the senate.

And then the
governor carjacked the bill.

In a letter to
the assembly announcing his decision, Schwarzenegger said
that he believes that the legislature overreached its
authority in enacting the bill, claiming it reverses
the will of voters who approved Proposition 22 in
2000, which banned recognition of same-sex marriages
from other states. The governor deliberately ignored the
fact that the San Francisco superior court has ruled
that law to be unconstitutional and instead is using
the legislature’s historic vote for equality as a
weapon to convince right-wing voters to support his
ill-conceived legislative redistricting initiative on
the November ballot.

Following his
veto message, the governor contradicted himself by stating
that “lesbian and gay couples are entitled to full
protection under the law and should not be
discriminated against based upon their
relationships.” Now I feel compelled to ask:

Governor
Schwarzenegger, the marriage equality bill presented you
with a sterling opportunity to back up your commitment
to the rights of lesbian and gay couples with a simple
stroke of the pen. What held you back? You could have
made history. You could have risen to the stature of past
leaders who had the courage and conviction to push civil
rights forward—great leaders, such as supreme
court justice Thurgood Marshall, or President Lyndon
Johnson. Instead, you chose to become the first
governor in history to veto equal marriage rights for
same-sex couples.

We at Equality
California, the organization that sponsored the marriage
bill, believe that equality is inevitable. We know you
believe it as well. But that does not mean that
marriage equality won’t be hard-won when it
finally happens. Antigay extremists, with the support of the
majority Republican legislators, are gathering signatures
for initiatives that would not only prohibit the
courts or the legislature from ending discrimination
in marriage laws, but would also eliminate existing legal
protections currently provided by law to domestic partners,
including rights enacted with the governor’s
signature last year.

When will you
finally condemn these mean-spirited initiatives and urge
Californians not to sign these petitions?

During his State
of the State address in January, Schwarzenegger boldly
and correctly stated that “political courage is not
political suicide.” It is truly a
disappointment that he declined to follow those words with
courageous acts. California voters will soon get to send the
governor a different message, one that John Kerry
learned the hard way: Political cowardice is political
suicide.

Schwarzenegger’s marriage veto has blocked progress
on this year’s bill, but the momentum behind
the marriage-equality movement will continue to build.
I urge you to clip out those newspaper headlines that say
“Schwarzengger Vetoes Gay Marriage Bill” and
stuff them in a drawer. In the not-too-distant future,
you may come across those clips and wonder what the
fuss over equal marriage rights in 2005 was all about.

Governor
Schwarzenegger, we’ll be back.

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