Friday, September 30, 2005

Schwarzenegger rejects same-sex marriage bill

Not too long ago, the Governator looked like the sunny face of the libertarian wing of the Republican Party -- conservative on economics, crime, and national security, but otherwise socially permissive. I was never much of an Arnold booster, whatever my agreement with many of his core views, and I watched his ascension to power in that faraway dreamland of California with a strange mixture of curiosity, outrage, and resignation -- and, well, optimism. After my initial shudder wore off -- a celebrity-worshipping culture picks a larger-than-life celebrity: how very California! surely a Sign of the Apocalypse! -- I was prepared to give him a chance to prove himself.

Well, I don't live in California, and it's a long way from the America I know best (New England and the New York tri-state area, plus western New York), but it's not too hard to tell that the thin veneer of popularity (if not legitimacy) has worn off.

And now we have the allegely libertarian Schwarzenegger, the man who once said that he didn't care whether same-sex marriage was legal or not, vetoing a same-sex marriage bill that recently passed the California Senate and Assembly:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger [yesterday] vetoed a bill that would have legalized same-sex marriage in California, saying that although he believes gay couples are "entitled to full protection under the law," the bill would have wrongly reversed an initiative California voters approved five years ago.

"I do not believe the Legislature can reverse an initiative approved by the people of California," the governor wrote in his veto message.

Schwarzenegger's rejection of the measure was expected, even though when he was asked about same-sex marriage last year he said, "I don't care one way or the other."

The bill, AB 849 by Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) was the first sanctioning same-sex marriage to clear a state legislature without a court order. It passed the Senate and Assembly earlier this month with no Republican votes and without a vote to spare after lengthy, debate.

Leno accused Schwarzenegger of "hiding behind the fig leaf" of Proposition 22, which 61% of California voters approved in 2000. It says that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

"The governor has failed his test of leadership and has missed a history opportunity to stand up for the basic civil rights of all Californians," said Leno. "He cannot claim to support fair and equal legal protections for same sex couples and veto the very bill that would have provided it to them."

Schwarzenegger's veto will not end the debate over same-sex marriage in a state whose residents are evenly divided, 46% to 46%, according to an August poll.

The California Supreme Court is likely to decide next year whether state laws that define marriage as being between a man and a woman are constitutional, including Proposition 22.

Voters may also consider the issue directly next year. Two petitions are in circulation for initiatives that would define marriage in California as between a man and a woman and ban recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages.

So wot's, uh, the deal? Is he preparing for a future presidential bid? Perhaps, but the Constitution would need to be amended first, and I highly doubt that he'd have much of a shot getting through the Republican primaries and convincing Americans that he's anything other than a cigar-chomping action star on the decline. Or is he just a populist who won't accept anything other than majority vote in a referendum? Perhaps, and both the recent votes in the Legislature and the trend in public opinion towards acceptance of same-sex marriage likely mean that the people will soon have the final say. Or will Schwarzenegger find some excuse to reject even that?

(Wherever he's coming from, he should show some courage. Isn't that what a true action hero would do?)

Massachusetts is leading the country in the East. It's time for California to lead in the West. Schwarzenegger or not, it seems that Californians are about ready to do just that.

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