(Editor’s Note: Working with the Political Science class of Dr. Humberto Caspa at UC San Marcos, La Prensa San Diego will, periodically, be publishing political commentaries from the students perspective. It is our goal to provide space for these students as they develop their critical thinking skills.)
By: Norman Vigil
Once at the forefront of the battle for civil liberties, today California has been relinquished to the sidelines. Governor Schwarzenegger announced this month that he would veto a bill that would have allowed gay marriage to be legally recognized by the state of California.
Early this month, the California Senate passed the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act by a majority vote. The bill intends to change Proposition 22, which was approved by a popular vote in March 2000, and it prohibits same-sex marriage. “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California,” Proposition 22 articulates.
Although Schwarzenegger has stated he is not a politician, his decision to veto the bill might have a political agenda. A law allowing same-sex marriage would surely alienate his political base. In addition, his success in this upcoming special election in November depends greatly on how much backing he can get from his own constituency.
According to recent polls, Schwarzenegger isn’t as popular as he used to be. His approval rating is down to 36 percent. This is the lowest since he has arrived in Sacramento. If he wants any chance at passing his initiatives in November, he must remain out of fray. That’s exactly what he is doing with the same-sex marriage issue.
The Governor has vowed to veto the bill, but his actions aren’t consistent with his beliefs. In the past, he has criticized San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newson for being too vocal and too active on the gay issue. Schwarzenegger said, “Marriage law is something that the legislators can do, the people can do or the court can do, but not individual mayors.” His remarks show a lack of coherence on the gay issue. While he recognizes the Assembly’s power to legislate, he isn’t willing to accept it on the same-sex marriage issue.
Moreover, we shouldn’t forget that California has been a nation of civil rights legislations. In 1948, the state’s Supreme Court became the first one to strike down a law prohibiting interracial marriage. Later in 1976, California was among the first states to repeal sodomy statues. The Governors’ decision to repeal same-sex marriage means another set back for gay-rights activists. These hard-working citizens will have to wait until either the California Supreme Court upholds this issue, or until a next round of initiatives.
The question Californians will have to ask themselves is whether or not same-sex marriage is really inappropriate for the institutions of marriage? It is likely that the California Supreme Court might find discrimination based on sexual preference unconstitutional. However, for now, Californians may be subjected to another round of initiatives on this same issue.
According to Lisa Leff of the Associated Press, “Gay rights activists are lobbying Schwarzenegger to come out against a pair of proposed constitutional amendments that would ban same-sex marriage in California and revoke the spousal rights already granted to domestic partners.” He has not yet taken a stance on either of the initiatives, but will be meeting with activist to discuss their concerns. Despite his willingness for the meeting, Schwarzenegger’s spokeswoman Margarita Thompson stated: “This will not change the governor’s decision to veto this piece of legislation.”
California is changing in scope and substance. Governor Schwarzenegger’s decision to veto the same-sex marriage bill only slows down that process of change; it won’t stop it. Banning the Bill is a clear violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, and it goes against the will of half of the voting population. Recent polls suggest that 46% support changing Proposition 22.
With public opinion moving toward a more progressive agenda, it is only a matter of time before California goes the way of Massachusetts, despite the efforts of Schwarzenegger to keep the issue off his agenda.
Norman Vigil, Student at California State University San Marcos