Gay Advocates Press Schwarzenegger

Amidst fevered efforts to save marriage bill, even a call for pitchforks

But the state’s gay rights lobby, the bill’s sponsor, Equality California, is calling for restraint, at least until the governor acts on the measure, which is due to get to his desk on Friday, September 23.

The historic law, introduced by gay San Francisco Democratic Assemblyman Mark Leno, cleared both houses of the state Legislature by narrow margins, with a final victory in the Assembly on September 6 only after three members changed their votes at the last moment. Not quite 24 hours later, Schwarzenegger announced he would veto the measure.

One activist challenged the Equality California’s leader, Geoff Kors, to engage in “direct action tactics” and said that if Kors “were any kind of leader” he would have already handcuffed himself to Schwarzenegger’s desk.

Anther gay man posted a coment on a blog criticizing Kors’ passivity, harkening back to the French Revolution.

"Geoffrey should realize how ineffective email is," the post read. " I’ve emailed him and aked him to trade candle vigils for pitchforks."

Instead, the advocates and the bill’s authors are challenging Schwarzenegger on moral grounds, even as the governor’s spokespeople are vowing that the governor will not change his mind.

“He has an opportunity to be remembered with Earl Warren, who ended the ban on interracial marriage in California,” said Leno on Tuesday, “But he has chosen to be remembered with Governor George Wallace.”

Latino and African-American leaders have become some of the loudest voices in support of the bill. In the past few months, it picked up the endorsements of both the United Farm Workers union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP.

The vote that pushed the bill over the top in the Assembly was from Democrat Simón Salinas from the heavily Latino, heavily Catholic Central Valley farm town of Salinas, who had vowed to abstain on the bill as late as the morning of the vote. Advocates ranging from United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta to Marina Gatto, the bubbly 17-year-old daughter of two lesbians, visited Salinas that day. In a whispered interview at the back of the Assembly chamber, just before the vote, Huerta told Salinas, “Respecting other people’s rights is peace…. Gay marriage doesn’t interfere with straight marriage,” and that “gay and lesbian rights are human rights.”

The bill needed 41 votes to clear the 80-member Assembly, and when the vote was called after an impassioned debate, the total hung at 40, as the packed Assembly chamber sat in silence, for about 15 seconds. Then Salinas’ light blinked on, and the room erupted with cheers.

Earlier in the day, Gatto said she thought she had convinced Salinas to say he’d be the 41st vote by presenting herself as the child of a gay family and asking him if he thought her family should get treated differently than any other.

“Simón Salinas said he would abstain. We got the UFW and families to visit him,” said Equality California’s Kors. “Do you think we’d have gotten his vote if we’d sat down in his office and gotten arrested?”

Advocates hope to give Schwarzenegger the same treatment. They have scheduled a meeting with the governor’s staff on September 21, two days before Schwarzenegger gets the bill.

“We exhort the governor to side with history,” said gay San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano of action by the Board of Supervisors, “and he should not be playing this tango of death with the Bush administration.”

San Francisco’s mayor, Gavin Newsom, also chimed in: “It will disappoint literally hundreds and hundreds of thousands of San Franciscans, not to mention millions of people across the country.”

The Los Angeles City Council and its new Latino Democratic mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, had both come out for the bill a month before the Assembly vote.

Hollywood friends have reportedly been calling Schwarzenegger.

Newspapers, including The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, have weighed in. In New York, The Times asked, “Where’s the Governator now?” and said that it’s “too bad Mr. Schwarzenegger could not find the courage to sign the bill into law.”

Advocates are trying to build pressure with phone calls and letters and Leno said they are planning on buying advertising with a message to the governor’s Kennedy clan wife: “Don’t let him do it Maria.”

Since the Assembly victory, a pro-gay-marriage Democrat trounced a Republican opponent in a special election in what had been a swing district in Los Angeles.

Californians are evenly divided on the issue, with roughly 46 on each side according to polls. And the bill is a political torpedo from the Democrats that has hit home. Whatever Schwarzenegger does next Friday when he gets the bill, about equal numbers of California voters will likely despise him.

And whatever the result of his special election this year, if Schwarzenegger makes it through the gubernatorial primary in June 2006, he will face reelection in November in a state that he only won in the recall by wooing some considerable number of Democrats, who make up about 60 percent of voters.

Lesbian Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, a Los Angeles Democrat, said she thinks if Schwarzenegger vetoes the bill, he will forever lose the Democratic voters he needs to keep his job. “No right wing base has ever elected a governor,” she said.

So Equality California’s Kors is pleading for moderation.

“We understand people’s anger,” he said. “Let us use this as an opportunity to try to secure victory. And if he vetoes the bill, we’ll address what to do.”

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