Well, the California Assembly has done it!!! With the Assembly passing the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, just a few days after the Senate passed it, California becomes the first state whose legislature has voluntarily enacted marriage equality for same-sex couples. The victory hinged on three Assemblymembers who had abstained when the measure first fell short in June. There were some inspirational comments made on the Assembly floor. Assemblymember Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana), one of the swing votes, noted that he was "cajoled, harangued, harassed, and threatened" by partisans on both sides, but that he ultimately saw this as a defining moment to lead, and to set an example for his own three children: "I wanted them to look back and see where I was when we could make a difference, if I stood with those who took a leadership role in terms of tolerance, equality, and fairness. And I'll be proud to say I did." Another swing voter, Assemblymember Gloria Negrete McCloud (D-Santa Barbara County), said she was swayed by a reading of the Declaration of Independence, a reminder that one of country's core values is "justice for all". (The measure passed 41-35, on a completely party line vote, with no Republicans for and no Democrats against.) Meanwhile, losers such as Assemblymember Jay LaSuer (R-La Mesa) couldn't see the leadership: "You are not leading. You have gone astray." I'm confident that history will show who was on the right side of this one.
Unfortunately, in the short term, justice may be forestalled yet again. The latest releases this evening indicate that Governor Schwarzenegger intends to veto the measure. His statement cited the passage of Prop 22, an initiative statute passed in 2000 by 61% that outlawed California's recognition of same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions. The act that was just passed by the legislature technically does not conflict with Prop 22, though I would concede that it is a fine point. (Should the new legislation become law, California would be in the strange position of allowing same-sex marriage within the state, but not recognizing those performed anywhere else.) The Governor is concerned that the Legislature is defying the will of the people as expressed in Prop 22 five years ago. He has made positive statements about full equal rights for gays and lesbians, but has said it is up to the people or the courts to decide. (Personally, reading between the lines, I think the Governor is hoping that the Supreme Court will do the right thing when the issue reaches them, perhaps next year.) However, I think that the Governor is underestimating how much popular opinion may have moved on this issue in the last five years. From my own personal experience, I can vouch that society has shifted leaps and bounds in the last five years (and even more so in the last ten). A recent Public Policy Institute poll of Californians found virtually equal numbers supporting and opposing marriage equality. So, I'm going to send a letter to the Governor urging him to be on the side of justice (as well as history) and reconsider his decision to veto. Please join me in sending him a letter, or just take a moment to call. You'll find the Governor's contact info here.