By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Harris couldn’t be reached for comment, but Wolfson, who describes himself as “nonpartisan,” says the fear of putting Kerry on the spot with a dramatic gay-marriage lawsuit wasn’t the reason for the phone calls. “It certainly wasn’t about the election,” the lawyer says. “My advice has always been that we need to work together, and simply filing a lawsuit isn’t enough to win on its own. We need to educate the public first.”
Perry and Tyler, two battle-tested veterans of the gay-rights struggle, obviously didn’t listen to the unsolicited advice, and now they can legally marry their longtime partners. One of the key people who placed the couples at the altar wasn’t a Democratic insider or an influential activist. He was a Republican named George.
George grew up in Los Angeles and methodically climbed the ranks of the California judiciary circuit. He was first appointed to Los Angeles Municipal Court by then-governor Ronald Reagan in 1972. Five years later, Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, appointed him to the Los Angeles Superior Court. After a four-year stint on the Court of Appeals, Wilson sat George on the California State Supreme Court, elevating him to chief justice in 1996.
“It is fair to say that Ronald George sees cases without a partisan glint,” says Douglas Kmiec, Caruso Family Chair in Constitutional Law at Pepperdine University, “and judges them within their own case-by-case framework. One of the reasons the [gay] marriage cases will likely have credibility is because he does.”
In California, Kmiec says, Republican appointments to the bench are “not necessarily” based on conservative credentials. “The only way to be elected a Republican governor in California is to act pretty much like a moderate Democrat,” he says, “or, as Gov. Schwarzenegger likes to proclaim, ‘trans-party.’?”
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Despite what some critics would claim, Dan Schnur, a former aide to Wilson, says his old boss operated within that centrist framework. “Pete Wilson was a social moderate,” Schnur says, “and he appointed those kinds of judges. I don’t think the [gay-marriage] ruling should be surprising at all.”
Schwarzenegger probably understood well the political culture of the judicial appointments when he vetoed gay-marriage bills in 2005 and 2007. “Schwarzenegger obviously sat down and thought it through,” says Darry Sragow, a Democratic political strategist. “[The vetoes] may have been a clever way to get around his party.”
Schwarzenegger has consistently stuck to one political line: He would never sign a gay-marriage bill that would overturn the voters’ will on Proposition 22, which defines marriage as a formal union between one man and one woman, and he would abide by the courts’ rulings if that ballot measure were found unconstitutional. State Democrats still attempted to force his hand, but Schwarzenegger refused to be outmaneuvered.
“I was certainly disappointed [in 2007],” says Assemblyman Mark Leno, who twice introduced the same-sex-marriage bill. “Here was a historic chance to embrace equality, and the governor failed us a second time.”
By 2007, though, it was becoming clear that gay-marriage lawsuits would almost certainly be headed for the California State Supreme Court. Schwarzenegger, who could not be reached for comment, may have waited for things to play out in the state’s highest court, as Darry Sragow suggests, knowing that at least a majority of the judges were social moderates with an old-fashioned Republican/libertarian streak — the kind of mindset that believes government should stay out of people’s pocketbooks and bedrooms.
According to Republican strategist Arnold Steinberg, this scenario isn’t all that hard to believe. “Schwarzenegger was always a closet (no pun intended) supporter of gay marriage,” writes Steinberg in an e-mail to the Weekly. “So he was probably happy to have an excuse to at least stay neutral, or, now, to actually oppose the November ballot measure.”
On the day of the Supreme Court’s ruling, Schwarzenegger released this statement: “I respect the court’s decision and as governor, I will uphold its ruling. Also, as I have said in the past, I will not support an amendment to the constitution that would overturn this state Supreme Court ruling.”
ON APRIL 11, A MONTH BEFORE Chief Justice George and three of his colleagues legalized same-sex marriage in California, Schwarzenegger may have been setting the political stage again. The governor took a trip to San Diego for the national convention of the Log Cabin Republicans, the party’s gay wing. Sitting onstage in a gray suit and salmon-colored tie, Schwarzenegger took questions from national Log Cabin president Patrick Sammon, who sat next to him. Bright lights shone on them, and the standing-room-only audience was buzzing.
“Can we count on your opposition to this effort to ban gay people from having marriage equality?” Sammon asked, referring to November’s anti-gay-marriage measure.