SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Less than 24 hours after a landmark same-sex marriage proposal won final legislative approval, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday announced he would reject the measure and that the contentious issue should be settled by a vote of the people or the courts.
In a two-paragraph statement, Schwarzenegger’s press secretary said he respects the legal protections already afforded gays in California as well as overwhelming support by voters in 2000 for Proposition 22 – now under challenge in California courts – that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
“The governor believes the matter should be determined not by legislative action – which would be unconstitutional – but by court decision or another vote of the people of our state,” said Margita Thompson. “We cannot have a system where the people vote and the Legislature derails that vote.”
The governor’s unusually quick announcement, however, is far from the final word because the issue of same-sex marriage is pending in state courts. Likewise, backers of two more anti-gay-marriage measures hope to get on the ballot next year.
After first ducking the issue on Wednesday, Schwarzenegger surprised lawmakers with his statement. “If this is true,” said Assemblyman Mark Leno, San Francisco Democrat and the bill’s author, “it would be very disrespectful to the many millions of Californians who support this bill to make a decision without even allowing the proponents to make a case for his signature. This is not just another bill.”
Tuesday’s vote made the California Legislature the first legislative body in the nation to approve same-sex marriage
Thompson’s statement nipped a massive lobbying effort supporters were planning and caught many of them off guard. It also may cement conservative backing for Schwarzenegger in the special election and if he runs for re-election in 2006.
“Oh my,” said Patrick Soricone, executive director of the Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center in San Jose, which was preparing to celebrate the passage of Leno’s bill on Wednesday night. “I was just pulling out the sparkling cider.” He described his state of mind as “extreme disappointment.”
For Schwarzenegger to have OK’d same-sex marriage legislation, the governor would have needed to make a bold break with Republican Party orthodoxy and risk a backlash among his base supporters.
The one-time Hollywood star won the governorship as a social moderate and a backer of gay rights. But for the past nine months he’s pursued a strong GOP agenda, solidifying support among staunch conservatives who he badly needs to pass his three November special election measures on the state budget, teacher tenure and legislative district lines
A delighted Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, Irvine Republican, said “this single action goes further to ensure his re-election in 2006 than just about anything he can be doing right now.”