- Sasha Issenberg
September 29, 2005: Schwarzenegger vetoes California gay-marriage bill
FIFTEEN YEARS AGO...
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, the first ever passed by American legislators.
In 1999, Governor Gray Davis enacted the state’s first domestic-partner registry, covering both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Over the next four years, legislators added rights and benefits with minimal political resistance. By 2003, California’s domestic partnerships were the equal of marriage in every respect but their name, leading journalist-activist E. J. Graff to call it the “most important same-sex partnership law in the nation.” (By then, following Vermont’s lead, other states had begun to use the term “civil unions” to describe such marriage-by-another-name régimes.) Two years later, legislators went a step farther, passing a bill drafted by San Francisco senator Mark Leno to permit what it called “gender-neutral marriage.”
The bill landed on Schwarzengger’s desk in September 2005. The former actor and bodybuilder had been elected two years earlier during a bizarre special recall election, running as a moderate Republican who was friendly to gay rights and receptive to the existing domestic-partnership régime. But he balked at enacting the marriage law. “I am proud California is a leader in recognizing and respecting domestic partnerships and the equal rights of domestic partners," Schwarzenegger declared in a message that accompanied his September 29. "I support current domestic partnership rights and will continue to vigorously defend and enforce these rights and as such will not support any rollback."
Schwarzenegger justified the veto by pointing to Proposition 22, a ballot initiative which California voters overwhelmingly passed in March 2000 to restrict marriage in the state to opposite-sex couples. Challenges to Proposition 22’s constitutionality then moving through state courts should settle the matter of legal same-sex marriage once and for all, Schwarzenegger argued in his veto message.
A spokeswoman, however, pointed to another sphere in which the marriage issue could be taken up, one where the debate would prove far more fractious than it had been when in the hands of judges or lawmakers. “The governor believes the matter should be determined not by legislative action,” said press secretary Margita Thompson, “but by court decision or another vote of the people of our state.”