Schwarzenegger Preparing for Veto

Despite postcards from children of gay families, Republican ducks meeting, remains unmoved

On Tuesday, wielding signs that read “Don’t Veto My Family,” dozens of small children of gays and lesbians delivered 40,000 signature cards to California Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s offices all over the state, asking him to sign the state’s pending first-in-the-nation same-sex marriage bill, contrary to what his office indicated he would due one day after its passage. They delivered them from the backs of red Radio Flyer wagons, as the cameras rolled.

On Wednesday morning, activists aired a television commercial telling the Republican governor that he has a choice between being remembered as a hero like his wife’s uncles Robert and John F. Kennedy—“Those who have made America great are the ones who have brought America together,” the ad says—or deciding to “stand with the forces of discrimination,” such as Alabama Governor George Wallace who held out steadfastly for segregation at the height of the civil rights struggle in the early 1960s.

“Governor, the choice is yours,” the ad said, suggesting that Schwarzenegger “be a hero.”

On Wednesday afternoon, 16 of the state’s most prominent gay rights advocates crowded into the governor’s Council Room in the state Capitol to deliver that message personally to about eight of Schwarzenegger’s staff. The governor did not attend.

But the answer, said several who attended the meeting, is “no.”

“Devastating,” said Kate Kendell, executive director of the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights, who was in the closed-to-the-media showdown.

“They made it quite plain that they didn’t see much of a possibility” that he would change his mind on the bill, Kendell said.

Schwarzenegger has refused to meet with the bill’s author, gay San Francisco Democratic Assemblyman Mark Leno. The governor will receive the legislation on Friday and has until October 9 to either sign or veto it.

Advocates scoffed when, in an interview with San Jose’s Mercury News on Wednesday, Schwarzenegger said he didn’t remember if he had ever attended a gay marriage or commitment ceremony.

“I know—please,” said Kendell.

“You know, to me, I have never really felt that strong one way of another because to me, I don’t, you know, I’m not personally hung up on the whole thing,” Schwarzenegger said in the same interview.

Schwarzenegger insisted that his current position, in favor of civil unions but against gay marriage, is consistent with the will of California’s voters who, by a margin of about 60 percent, passed a 2000 referendum that said that marriage is between a man and a woman.

But recent polls show that the state is now about equally divided on the issue, with roughly 46 percent decided on one side or the other.

Leno’s bill finally cleared both houses of the state’s Legislature on September 6—the first time a state legislature has considered a gay marriage bill, much less passed one.

Democratic foes say that the beleaguered Schwarzenegger, whose approval ratings have tumbled to record lows in the mid 30s, is attempting to move his newly announced re-election campaign to the right and mobilize the conservative supporters who traditionally fund Republican candidates.

When Schwarzenegger seized the governorship in a recall election in 2003, he didn’t have to go through a primary, normally a time of polarization in California politics, as candidates work to energize their most vital, and most extreme, supporters. Instead, Schwarzenegger ran as a political moderate who would, he said, reform the state’s Democrat-dominated political structure.

He has committed himself to a special election this November with measures that would cripple the influence, and spending, of unions in political campaigns and would redraw the boundaries of the state’s legislative districts to make it easier for Republicans to get elected.

But Democrats have transformed the special election into a referendum on Schwarzenegger’s leadership. And it is failing. Only about 45 percent of Californians think the election itself is a good idea.

Schwarzenegger will face a re-election battle a year from November. Both of the current Democratic challengers, state Controller Steve Westly and Treasurer Phil Angelides, have said they would have signed Leno’s bill.

Gay rights foes are currently collecting signatures to qualify two constitutional amendments for the 2006 ballot which would not only prohibit same-sex marriage, but would also undo the state’s domestic partnership statutes, now among the most inclusive in the nation.

So advocates asked Schwarzenegger’s staff for a consolation prize—that he must, at least, come out against those initiatives.

“It can’t just be lip service,” said Kendell. “He wants to govern for all Californians… A statement unequivocally opposing the constitutional amendments would go a long way toward demonstrating that.”

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