California's Legislature passed a bill to legalize full same-sex marriage Sept. 6.
But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Sept. 7 he will veto it.
It was the first time in U.S. history that any legislature voted to let gay couples marry.
The Assembly passed the bill Sept. 6 in a 41-35 vote, the minimum needed for passage. The Senate passed it Sept. 1 in a 21-15 vote.
But Schwarzenegger says the state Supreme Court or California voters should make the decision, not the Legislature.
'In Governor Schwarzenegger's personal life and work in public service, he has considered no undertaking to be more noble than the cause of civil rights,' his press secretary, Margita Thompson, announced Wednesday afternoon. 'He believes that gay couples are entitled to full protection under the law and should not be discriminated against based upon their relationship. He is proud that California provides the most rigorous protections in the nation for domestic partners.
'Five years ago the matter of same-sex marriage was placed before the people of California,' she continued. 'The people voted and the issue is now before the courts. The Governor believes the matter should be determined not by legislative action—which would be unconstitutional—but by court decision or another vote of the people of our state. We cannot have a system where the people vote and the Legislature derails that vote. Out of respect for the will of the people, the Governor will veto AB 849.'
California voters passed Proposition 22 in 2000. It amended the state Family Code to read, 'Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.'
In March of this year, San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer struck down both Prop. 22 and the state's opposite-sex definition of marriage.
That decision is on appeal and will end up before the California Supreme Court.
'I did it for my kids'
One of the decisive votes in the Assembly came from Assemblymember Tom Umberg of Anaheim, who abstained in June when the Assembly rejected a same-sex-marriage bill 37-36.
'This is one of those times when history looks upon us to see where we are,' Umberg said. 'Ten years from now there are a handful of issues that history will record where we stood. And this is one of those issues. History will record whether we pushed a bit, whether we took the lead to encourage tolerance, to encourage equality, to encourage fairness.
'And the constituency I'm concerned about is a very small one,' Umberg added. 'That's the constituency of my three children, should they decide to look back on my record and look back and reflect on where I ... stood when I could make a difference. If I stood with those who sought to take a leadership roll in terms of tolerance, equity and fairness. And I'll be proud to say I did.'
California's statewide gay lobby group, Equality California ( EQCA ) , was ecstatic, at least for a day.
'Today in California, love conquered fear, principle conquered politics and equality conquered injustice,' said Executive Director Geoffrey Kors. 'For the first time in our nation's history, the people's elected representatives have taken a stand to protect all families and ensure equality for all.'
'At last, righteous voices have found courageous votes,' added EQCA Board member Brian Bennett. 'Our Legislature didn't wait to be ordered to do the right thing, it just did it.'
After Schwarzenegger's announcement, Kors fumed, 'The governor is clearly now in bed with [ Traditional Values Coalition Chairman ] Lou Sheldon.
'One man cannot terminate a civil rights movement,' Kors said in a later statement. 'Minority rights should never be dictated by the majority. ... If the governor truly opposes discrimination, he will come out in strong opposition to any ballot measure, court decision or legislation that repeals legally recognized protections and responsibilities that are currently afforded through domestic partnerships or permanently bans marriage protections for same-sex couples. He has to make a decision on what he wants his legacy to be; we hope that he will not go down in history as 'The Discriminator.''
The newest statewide polling found that 46 percent of Californians favor same-sex marriage and 46 percent oppose it.
At present, the only state where same-sex couples can marry is Massachusetts, where the state Supreme Judicial Court forced legalization of gay marriage last year.
California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey and Vermont have civil-union or domestic-partnership laws that grant registered same-sex couples most or all state-level rights and obligations of marriage.
Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands and Spain allow same-sex couples access to full marriage.