Arnold’s Kiss-Off

If you read the first few sentences of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s press release last week on gay marriage, you might think he was coming out in support of AB 849, the bill that passed both houses of California’s Legislature that would give same-sex couples the civil marriage rights afforded to heterosexuals. “He believes that gay couples are entitled to full protection under the law and should not be discriminated against based on their relationship,” the Governator’s press secretary said. But citing the public vote for Proposition 22 in 2000, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman, the statement went on to express Schwarzenegger’s belief that the issue wasn’t one for him or the Legislature, but should be settled by “a court decision or another vote of the people of our state.” Despite having two weeks to mull over the issue before the bill reached his desk, Schwarzenegger got the word out he was vetoing the bill. The announcement was painfully ironic for marriage-equality activists in California, who had made history by passing the first marriage bill through any state legislature without the threat of a court intervention. Schwarzenegger’s argument that it was a court issue was also a cruel twist on the national GOP mantra from last year, when “activist judges” were blamed for forcing same-sex marriages on Massachusetts, and an out-of-control judiciary was one of the driving messages behind constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage that were passed overwhelmingly in 12 states from Oregon to Georgia.“It’s not ironic — it’s pure hypocrisy,” says Assemblyman Mark Leno, the author of the bill. “It is incredibly insulting to preemptively announce his veto.”The governor’s initial political calculus was repeated ad nauseam in the media all last week — an increasingly unpopular Arnold, despite his past pronouncements that he supported gay rights and marriage equality, needs to keep the hard right of his party from revolting before his trifecta referenda vote in November. In addition, this shores up support to quell any sort of primary challenge from a religious conservative once re-election time comes around.Problem is, Schwarzenegger may not have placated the anti-marriage folks, especially by suggesting the issue go to the courts.“He’s inviting judicial activism and that’s what we’re opposed to,” Rick Ackerman, spokesman for the Pro-Family Legal Center, told Fox News.At least one Republican observer thinks marriage-equality activists are being played by opponents of the governor’s special-election initiatives, who now have a new fired-up constituency to get out and vote no in November.“The timing is 100 percent political,” Allan Hoffenblum, a leading statewide GOP political consultant, said, noting that if the bill had been brought up later this year or in early 2006 Schwarzenegger might be more accommodating. “If you’re really sincere about getting a gubernatorial signature, why aren’t you working to get it on his desk when it is easiest to sign it?”Leno rejected Hoffenblum’s argument.“It’s like blaming the victim,” Leno said. “We’re not supposed to do our legislative work because of his political considerations? It’s really nonsense. Everything got infused with politics because of him and his special election.”In the meantime, Equality California, the gay-rights lobbying group that sponsored AB 849, isn’t folding its tent and going home with the announcement of an impending veto. The group points out Proposition 22 dealt only with the state’s recognizing hetero marriages from outside California, and that a new Public Policy Institute of California poll shows voters evenly split on the issue of marriage equality. On Monday, Equality California and Leno announced “Twelve Days of Equality,” a statewide project that encourages voters to call the governor and highlights same-sex couples who have suffered from not having full legal protection for their relationships. One voter Schwarzenegger is going to hear from is his own Los Angeles City Councilman, Bill Rosendahl, who spoke at a September 8 rally in West Hollywood denouncing his most famous constituent’s veto decision. “He didn’t make it a moral point, he didn’t say it was unnatural or it was against nature,” the openly gay Rosendahl said after the rally, where several hundred protesters held signs that read “Governor, don’t TERMINATE my rights!”Rosendahl, who recently got the L.A. City Council to pull support for an event that was going to honor an anti-gay minister, is a big proponent of explaining marriage equality as a civil rights issue one on one with undecideds. “I know the governor is conflicted,” Rosendahl said. “Arnold has some very close gay and lesbian friends. I know it’s a difficult situation because of the politics.”Despite the veto announcement, and despite the special-election calculation, Rosendahl is still optimistic Schwarzenegger might change his mind, especially in a state where the constituency seems to be at least open to the issue.“He might get the message,” he said, “and the votes are out there to mirror what is in his heart.”

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