In an Assembly session on Thursday, closely watched by some of us but barely noticed by most, California came to the brink of being the first legislative body to enact gay marriage. AB 19, the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, authored by Assemblymember Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and co-sponsored by Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and 30 other Assemblymembers, achieved 37 ayes and 36 noes, but needed 41 votes to pass. Leno had introduced the bill last year and garnered initial support, but then withdrew the bill at the request of the Speaker, with the promise that it would be reintroduced this year with the Speaker's full support. The Speaker himself spoke up for the bill, as did many co-sponsors. Not a single Republican voted for the bill, and in the end, about a dozen Democrats either abstained or voted against it.
I am disappointed with the outcome, but not devastated. I am encouraged to see that we have progressed as far as we have. Even getting such a bill to the floor of the legislature, let alone getting that close to passage, would have been utterly inconceivable ten years ago. I think in another year or two, the bill could actually pass. Of course it won't be reintroduced for at least another year, and meantime two other horses take the lead in the race -- the marriage case working its way toward the California Supreme Court and the constitutional initiative being filed by the Christian Taliban. In a way, I'm a bit relieved because of the "backlash factor". Passage of a bill this year would have poured gasoline on the flames being fanned by the anti-marriage initiative proponents, who are hoping to ride the momentum of anti-Massachusetts sentiment that has helped constitutional amendments get passed in a dozen states so far. It is dismaying enough that Proposition 22 (a statute initiative preventing California from recognizing gay marriages performed elsewhere) passed so overwhelmingly only 5 years ago. And the Christian Taliban, emboldened by their victories in other states, have raised the stakes, so that their initiative not only prohibits gay marriage but would undo the domestic partnership legislation enacted a couple of years ago. This is not about forcing any church to perform marriages it doesn't believe in -- that has never been proposed by anyone. This is about a handful of Pharisees who wish to prevent me from visiting my husband if he is in the hospital. When the Massachusetts bomb dropped last year, someone ought to have cued up Betty Davis: "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy..." few years!
Meanwhile, thanks to our friends who phoned their assemblymembers in the last few days. Here are the ones we need to keep working on: Juan Arambula (D-Fresno), Joe Baca (D-Rialto), Barbara Matthews (D-Tracy), Nicole Parra (D-Hanford), Juan Vargas (D-San Diego). And all of the Republicans.