Schwarzenegger has vetoed with disconcerting speed the bill the California State Assembly just passed that would allow gay marriage. I read the paper this morning with a ache in my belly and a draft in my head to the Governator of a letter dripping with prayers he might soon be carried off on the trashpile of history with all the other political followers-not-leaders who put expediency ahead of doing the right thing.
I couldn’t use that snappy threat not to vote for him any more. I wouldn’t have voted for him on a bet to begin with. There is a perversion in me that wants me to feel sorry for him. Here he is, the once Golden Boy, with ratings in the toilet. His base would have stormed the Capitol if he had approved this legislation. He really had no political choice.
OK. So color me pervert. Poor Arnold. In the wrong place at the wrong time. He probably knows this base of his is driven by fear and ignorance of gay folk. I’ll bet he knows lots of gay folk up close who live lives of dignity others might well learn from. But, like Clinton, he has to go with the flow and represent what he believes is the majority. So let’s not hate Arnold over this, I’m thinking to myself. Let’s not make him carry the burden of cultural conflict. In years to come I suspect the man will feel bad he had to make the decision to veto the bill. He will not be able to say, as civil rights make their way into the lives of Californians, that he led. He will have to explain to the end of his days that he had no choice, he had no choice, he had no choice.
Question is, is he following the crowd really? Is this where folks are these days in this slow but sure sea change of opinion over whether people who express their sexuality homosexually are threats to society? Word is trickling in that the rap gays have taken on being child molesters and psycho-narcissists is just plain hooey. Gays are folk, period, full stop. Some create the Sistine Chapel, others spend too much money on shoes. Some hate kids, others love their kids to death. The one true certainty in all this homophobia is that as non-gay people come to know gay people they loosen their previous reservations about treating them as equals.
Runner up for truest of certainties (with all due apologies to Strunk & White for my need to geld the rhetorical lily here) is that California is one mondo bizarro. It has a State Assembly, for example, of folk who are elected as the representatives of its people. They meet in the Capitol regularly to pass legislation. But then, it turns out, they sometimes pass legislation which turns out to be contrary to the "will of the people" as expressed by referenda.
In 2000, Californians passed Proposition 22 by 61% -- a very large margin by anybody’s standards. Prop. 22 declares, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." What’s curious about the way California does business is that any law passed by initiative like this can only be overturned by another initiative, and not by the legislative branch of government. Arnold is on strong ground when he says he’s following the will of the people – if you can be sure that the will of the people in 2000 is the will of the people in 2005. Technically, it has to be taken to be so until there is another referendum which reveals the will to be otherwise.
So there it is. Mark Leno and all those other lovely people in the Democratic Party in California who passed Assembly Bill 849 (in both the Senate and the House, don’t forget) will have gay people's undying gratitude for their "initiative." I think they are real leaders who took that extra step toward full civil rights for gays in line with the shift in public opinion. I think it is filtering in to the hearts and minds of Californians that history is moving away from homophobia. Scandinavia is far away culturally from all but the latte set, but when Spain and then Canada passed laws allowing gays to marry, I think it got people thinking. When Prop. 22 was passed in 2000 polls showed people favored a ban on same-sex marriage by 57 to 38 percent. A poll taken last month by the same pollsters showed those figures were now 46 for, 46 against. A dead heat. And if you look up to the larger context, while there has been occasional backsliding, approval for gay civil rights has been not-that-slow and very sure in coming.
The lesson may be that gay people simply need to show patience. I’m not recommending this. I won’t go with the current flow to shout "Arnold stabbed us in the back" but I have decided I can no longer believe that justice delayed is anything but justice denied.
Mark Leno, who led the fight for AB849 is taking gas for his attempts to argue Prop. 22 meant only that Californians did not have to recognize gay marriages in other states, that it said nothing about California, and therefore AB 849 does not run counter to the spirit of Prop. 22. But that’s embarrassingly silly. Of course people voted against gay marriage because they didn’t want it here, either. Leno is led by a touching desire to make the right thing happen now, and not when it has been aired and discussed for God knows how much longer. He’s not a fool; he’s simply really familiar with the injustice that homophobia has laid on gay folk for so many many years.
Gay marriage will come to California. I think in my lifetime. I am not sure about its acceptance in the U.S. in my lifetime, but as other countries move in that direction, who knows how people’s thinking may change. And if gay people continue to share their love of family openly with their non-gay neighbors and display the commonality of their hopes and challenges, more and more non-gay people will come to see what a wretchedly sour misuse of language and thought it is that they are "a threat to the family."
Don’t take the champagne back to the store. Keep it cool.
September 8, 2005