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California Legislature OK’s Gay Marriage; All Eyes on Schwarzenegger

Bill now goes to Gov. Schwarzenegger who is expected to veto it

Sacramento, CA — California legislature members made history Tuesday as the Assembly passed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, becoming the first lawmakers in the United States to sanction gay marriage without a court order. 

With no votes to spare, the measure was approved after three Democratic lawmakers who abstained on a similar proposal that failed in June changed their minds under intense lobbying by bill author Assemblyman Mark Leno and gay and civil rights activists. 

No Republicans voted in favor of the bill. Forty-one of the Assembly's 47 Democrats voted yes; four Democrats voted "no," and two abstained. 

All eyes are now on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign the bill, which would change California's legal definition of marriage from “a civil contract between a man and a woman” to a “civil contract between two persons.”

Previously, Schwarzenegger has indicated he would veto the bill, saying he believes it’s a decision that should be left to the courts. 

Tuesday's vote came after 23 lawmakers addressed the chamber, many of them focusing on the historic element of their action, others sharing intensely personal stories. 

In a moment of high drama, democrat Simon Salinas hesitated for several seconds as the tally hung at 40 “ayes" — one short of passage. But, having promised Leno months ago that he would not let the bill fail, Salinas pressed the “aye” button on his desk, making the final vote 41-35. 

In addition to Salinas, Assembly members Tom Umberg of Anaheim and Gloria Negrete-McLeod of Chino provided key votes. Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally, who had missed the floor vote in June, also helped the bill prevail. 

Two of the lawmakers who switched their votes from abstain to "aye" said in floor speeches that they were glad for another chance. 

Umberg elicited applause and whoops in the otherwise hushed chamber when he described why he had changed his mind. He said he had been “cajoled, been harassed, been harangued and been threatened" by friends over the issue. 

”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, took the lead to encourage tolerance, to encourage equality to encourage fairness.”

Negrete-McLeod similarly said she regretted abstaining in June. 

Some Republicans dismissed the historic significance of the vote and said gay marriage is not an issue of civil rights. Others criticized Leno for reviving the bill after the June defeat and called gay marriage immoral. 

”The institution of marriage transcends political fads,” said Assemblyman Ray Haynes (R-Murrieta). “We are talking about an institution that has been defined for thousands of years … and we are being asked to engage in a great social experiment.”

The fight over same-sex marriage will now shift to the governor's office — and to the courts and perhaps the ballot box. A case testing the legality of gay marriage is moving toward the state Supreme Court, and opponents of same-sex marriage are trying to qualify two initiatives to ban the practice for the ballot next year. 

Written By Ross von Metzke
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