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Schwarzenegger’s legacy

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

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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