Five weeks after voters in 11 states banned same-sex marriages and the issue was cited as a factor in John Kerry's defeat, a California lawmaker reintroduced a bill on Monday to make them legal. Assemblyman Mark Leno's Marriage License Nondiscrimination Act 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."
Despite the setbacks from the November 2 election, Leno, a San Francisco Democrat, said he was not worried that his measure might face even greater hurdles in the upcoming legislative session than it encountered during the last. "We proceed from a position of strength," he said over the weekend. "We are confident we will have the votes to get it off the [assembly] floor."
Chief among the reasons for his confidence is the support assembly speaker Fabian Nunez has pledged for the bill. In May, after the legislation had cleared one of the two committees it needed to reach the floor, Leno agreed to withdraw it temporarily with the understanding that Nunez would sign on as coauthor in December. Leno's decision to submit the bill on the first possible day signals his seriousness about getting his colleagues to deal with the bill, while the speaker's involvement means it will get priority treatment. Nunez, a Los Angeles Democrat, could not be reached for comment, but he has said he sees same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue.
The legislation needs 41 votes to make it out of the assembly and over to the California senate, where it's expected to have an easier time. In an interview, the assembly's Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, offered a preview of the arguments opponents of gay marriage will marshal against Leno's bill. He said that for the legislature to legalize marriage for same-sex couples would circumvent the mandate the state's voters expressed almost five years ago when they passed a ballot measure saying California recognizes as valid only marriages between a man and a woman. "The people of California have handled it, and any action differently is going against the will of the people," said McCarthy.
But Leno said the 2000 ballot initiative, Proposition 22, applies only to couples who have married elsewhere and want to have their unions legally recognized in California. Opponents of same-sex marriage claim it applies to in-state marriages as well, but neither theory has been ruled on in court. Although California remains one of the most gay-friendly states in the nation--a law scheduled to take effect January 1 gives same-sex couples who register as domestic partners nearly all the legal rights and responsibilities of married spouses--McCarthy said he thinks residents would prefer to see lawmakers
grappling with the state's ongoing financial problems. "If Mr. Leno is introducing it, he is misreading the election," McCarthy said. "This is not what California voters think should be introduced the first
day and debated on."
Leno's bill will move through the legislature at the same time that a pair of lawsuits seeking to overturn California's ban on same-sex marriages moves through the courts. Twelve couples and the city of San Francisco have sued the state, claiming a 1977 statute that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman is unconstitutional because it discriminates against gays. A hearing on the constitutional issues raised by the lawsuits is scheduled for December 22 in San Francisco superior court.