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A Look on the
Bright Side

A Look on the
Bright Side


California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed a second assembly bill that would have granted gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. Equality California's executive director, Geoff Kors, tells The Advocate why he's still optimistic that marriage equality is in our future.

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed Assembly Bill 43, which would have granted gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. It is the second time he has vetoed such a bill. In his October 12 veto message, the governor reiterated his stance on the issue: that because 2000's Proposition 22 bans same-sex marriage, it is up to the courts to rule on the proposition's constitutionality and whether same-sex marriage should be made legal in California.

Equality California has served as an active educator to the governor's office, successfully urging Schwarzenegger to enact several pro-gay laws. The group's executive director, Geoff Kors, tells The Advocate why he's still optimistic that marriage equality is in our future.

What does this veto mean for the future of marriage equality for Californians and the rest of the nation? Well, I think the fact that the legislature passed the bill again [is reassuring]. And this is a new legislature: Because of term limits, close to a third of the legislators were new and were not members when the bill went through in 2005. Twenty-three of the 43 assembly members who supported the bill were new members, and three of the senators are new. The bill passed by a wider margin in both houses than last time. Two senators who voted against it in 2005 voted for it in 2007, and that's the result of a lot of lobbying work by Equality California. That's the result of a continuing shift in public opinion. Every legislator who voted for the marriage bill was reelected easily, so we're seeing great progress. Even the governor's veto message was different this time. All he said was that the court [is] the right place to make this decision. He didn't say it shouldn't go to the people.

How are things going with the state supreme court case that Equality California is involved in? We anticipate a decision by the California supreme court sometime next year, and based on that, we'll determine if there's a need to move forward with the legislation or if the court is going to do the right thing and find the current law unconstitutional.

Equality California and a number of couples are the parties. The lead counsel, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, is representing us along with Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, and a couple of private attorneys. We have amicus briefs that show support from the entire civil rights community...hundreds of civil rights groups and organizations are supporting this.

Even though there was such a push for support in the legislature and with groups, Schwarzenegger has said since 2005 that he would not sign the bill. Is there anything that could have been done to persuade him otherwise? The governor stated his position early on in the session that he would not sign the bill. We continued to work on him. We delivered tens of thousands of signatures from people who supported the bill, and we continued to work with his office on the reasons he should support the bill and why his reasons are truly misguided. In all the places where the courts are ruling, many of the Republicans are saying that the legislature should decide. In this case, the Republican governor is saying the court should decide. I don't think anything could have been done to change his mind. He's been clear on this issue since he ran for office -- that the courts should decide this issue. Until the court rules, I don't think we've changed that decision. He has said he's personally fine with marriage equality, but as far as signing the bill, he made it clear in 2005 that he would not do that.

Do you think Californians would support an amendment banning same-sex marriage if it were on the ballot? There are three constitutional amendments that have been submitted to ban marriage for lesbian and gay couples, and [another] three that would go further to repeal domestic-partner protections. Californians have always supported domestic-partnership protections, and we're confident that [an amendment repealing those protections] would go nowhere if they move forward with it. Every poll that has been done in the last two years on marriage shows this being a dead heat -- an equal number of people support and an equal number of people oppose the right of lesbian and gay couples to marry. That's a sea change from where it was seven years ago. A lot depends on who turns out to vote and how things move forward before something's on the ballot. I truly believe we can defeat a constitutional amendment on this issue. Californians have moved 20 points on this issue in the last seven years, and the more this issue is discussed, the more they think about it, the more they move in our direction.

What is next in the battle for same-sex marriage? There's a huge ongoing education campaign that 45 organizations are a part of -- and Equality California Institute is leading -- called Let California Ring. We're having house parties across the state about this issue. We're educating people, because we know that when people think about it, they move to support freedom to marry.

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