The California legislature resumes its battle over same-sex marriage legislation this week, a fight that could lead, at least temporarily, to what the bill's author calls an awkward discrepancy in the law.
On Tuesday the assembly judiciary committee is scheduled to take up a bill by Democratic assemblyman Mark Leno of San Francisco that would authorize same-sex marriage in the state.
The judiciary committee voted to remove the ban on same-sex marriage last year, but that bill, also by Leno, never reached the assembly floor. Leno's more optimistic this time around. "Support has grown steadily over the past year," he said. "We're breaking new ground, but I'm very confident. We have a very good opportunity to move this off the floor of the assembly, to the senate, and then to the governor's desk."
The judiciary committee's vice chairman, Republican assemblyman Tom Harman of Huntington Beach, says he isn't sure what the committee will do with the bill--it has some new members--but he contends it would take a vote of the people to remove the ban. That's because of Proposition 22, an anti-same-sex marriage initiative that voters approved five years ago. The legislature's attorneys say lawmakers can't overturn that initiative, Harman said. "Frankly, Mr. Leno is in the wrong venue," he added.
But Leno says his bill wouldn't disturb Proposition 22, which was placed on the ballot to make sure California wouldn't recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
Instead, the bill would amend a different section of law that defines marriage as a civil contract between a man and a women and can be altered by the legislature, he said. "My bill specifically states nothing in my bill will affect [Proposition 22]," he said.
If his bill becomes law, Leno said, it could create a situation in which the state would recognize same-sex marriages performed in California but not elsewhere. "Yes, it would be awkward, but that's what the case would be," he said, likening it to the South in the 1950s, after the U.S. Supreme Court banned school segregation but antisegregation laws covering other facilities hadn't been passed yet.
Randy Thomasson, president of the conservative Campaign for Children and Families, says it was an "unconstitutional display of arrogance" for Leno to introduce the bill and that some Democratic lawmakers don't want to vote for it.
But Leno says polls indicate public support for same-sex marriage is increasing. "When they come to understand that anything short of marriage perpetuates discrimination, they come over to our side," he said, adding there are hundreds of rights and benefits that unmarried gay couples don't have.
The dispute is almost certain to find its way to the state supreme court. A San Francisco judge ruled last month that California's bans on same-sex marriage, including Proposition 22, are unconstitutional, and opponents plan to appeal. (AP)