Flying against the prevailing political winds, a California state lawmaker plans to introduce legislation this week that would legalize marriage for same-sex couples. Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) said he decided to promote his "Marriage License Nondiscrimination Act"--even as Congress and at least 10 states are debating stronger prohibitions on marriage for gays and lesbians--because he thinks it's the right thing to do, whether or not it stokes the backlash.
"There is never a perfect time to pursue civil rights, but neither is there ever a wrong time," said Leno, one of five gay or lesbian members of the California legislature. "For those of us on the short end of the civil rights stick, it's a burning issue."
While Leno is seeking more rights for same-sex couples, the national trend is in the opposite direction.
The Massachusetts supreme judicial court's recent ruling that cleared the way for the nation's first state-sanctioned same-sex weddings has legislators in many states rushing to prevent a ripple effect. A national poll released this week found that 60% of those surveyed opposed legalizing same-sex marriage in their states. Few legislators are attempting, like Leno, to appeal to the 31% who said they would support such a move.
In New York two lawmakers introduced a bill last March that would allow gay and lesbian couples to wed, but the measure has languished. And after promoting a marriage bill for three straight years, gay rights advocates in Connecticut decided this year not to press the issue again right now. "We are still as focused as ever on getting marriage, but because of what's happened in Massachusetts, we feel that our best strategy is to let that situation play itself out," said Anne Stanback, president of Love Makes a Family, a Connecticut lobbying group. "We assume that couples from Connecticut will be going to Massachusetts to get married, and we'll see if those marriages are recognized here."
Leno's measure, which he expects will have up to 20 cosponsors, would amend a section of California's family code that defines marriage as "a personal relationship arising out of a civil contract between a man and woman" to read "between two persons." It's unclear how far Leno's legislation will get in this national election year, but Leno said he expects it to at least reach a committee hearing, probably some time in March. If it stalls there, the assemblyman said he will reintroduce the measure in 2005 and in the meantime raise money to elect candidates who support it. The bill's introduction was timed to coincide with Marriage Equality Week, a time set aside by advocacy groups to lobby for full marriage rights for same-sex couples.
The measure already has generated opposition from socially conservative groups still angry over the state legislature's passage in 2003 of a measure that granted registered domestic partners many of the same state-level rights and responsibilities as married spouses--except the ability to file joint income