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Calif. Governor Signs Same-Sex Marriage Bill


California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed bills recognizing some out-of-state same-sex marriages, and establishing a Harvey Milk Day in the state. What motivated the governor to sign the gay rights legislation? And, will President Barack Obama soon overturn the military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy?

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Above: Civil rights attorney Mattheus Stephens goes on-the-record to explain what the new bill means for same-sex marriages. San Diego Business Journal editor Tom York discusses.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner. At the roundtable with me today are Tom York with the San Diego Business Journal, and Hieu Tran Phan, with San Diego Union-Tribune. And we’re turning to the issue of gay rights. The debate over same sex marriage really didn’t simmer down much even after last year’s Proposition 8 was upheld by the California State Supreme Court. The proposition, if you recall, reimposed the ban on same sex marriage in California but now it’s reaching a boil again with the bill signed by Governor Schwarzenegger. Now California will recognize some same sex marriages from other states, and this law has distinct time limits, only marriages performed in other states during the five month period which the California Supreme Court ruled that same sex marriages performed in California are legal. So, Hieu, do you get all that? Do you understand? I mean, I hope you do because I had trouble figuring it out. So only those marriages that were performed in other states during that five month period will be recognized as marriages.

HIEU TRAN PHAN (Specialists Editor, San Diego Union-Tribune): I would like to make a key clarification on this…


PHAN: …bill. And the governor created some of this confusion when he signed it and he said it was only this five month window. But the actual legislation does not have a time period to it. It basically just says that California will recognize same sex marriages in states where it’s considered to be legal, for no time limit placed on it. The other thing I should say is, the governor wasn’t the only one who made news with the same sex marriage issue. Our president, President Barack Obama, also generated a lot of headlines when he spoke last weekend about his intention to do away, and along with congress, the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. And I think this issue of gays serving in the military is going to continue to be in a lot of headlines for the next year to two years. It’ll probably last until the president and congress decide what to do with this policy.

PENNER: Okay, so, Tom, do you think this signals, looking at what the governor did and looking at what the president is saying, that this signals some kind of a real shift for the United States, both the federal and the states?

TOM YORK (Contributing Editor, San Diego Business Journal): Well, the way I would look at this is that this whole controversy that goes back for years is part of a societal convulsion. We’re sort of moving towards equal rights for gays in all areas but, you know, there’s an older generation that doesn’t accept this and there’s a younger generation that doesn’t care one way or the other. So I think we’re moving in that direction but it’s still going to be some time to come and we’re going to see the, you know, step forward, step back that we’re seeing now in Sacramento and…

PENNER: Is it going to be rocky time?

YORK: Well, it’s already a rocky time…

PHAN: Yeah.

YORK: …I think for people who are, you know, gay because they don’t have the equal rights that everyone else has and it’s – it really ticks them off and I don’t blame them.

PENNER: Well, let me ask our listeners about that. You have time to get in on the conversation. Do you feel that we are inevitably moving toward accepting equal rights for gay people, gay couples, and how do you feel about that? 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. We have a call from Ed in Lakeside. Ed, you’re on with the editors.

ED (Caller, Lakeside): Yes, people, I’m surprised that there’s a piece of information that has a lot of effect on how people would feel about this question, and that is, I’m holding in my hand right now a worldwide, very – Well, it’s a medical journal. The Merck Manual of Women’s and Male – Men’s Health, and it is recognized worldwide as the best piece of information for the general public on health. And it says unequivocally in a special box on one page, homosexuality is not choice.

PENNER: Oh, well, thanks, Ed. And, certainly, that’s all part of the debate. Ed – I have not seen the Merck Manual, I haven’t looked at that, but that’s really interesting. Is that not part of the debate, Tom, whether it’s a question of choice or you’re born there.

YORK: Well, I think it’s – that’s the, you know, goes at the heart of the debate between those who oppose gay marriage and those that want to have gay marriage in our society. But I think it’s somewhat of a red herring. I think it all boils down to are we going to give equal rights to everyone for everything or are we going to withhold some of those rights for some people? And in our society, in our country, you know, we want to, you know, treat everyone equally but sometimes we have a great deal of trouble doing that.

PENNER: Well, the – would the ultimate sign, Hieu, of the administration’s commitment to equal rights be to lead a fight to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act which recognizes marriage as only between a man and a woman?

PHAN: I think ultimately it has to come down to the societal vote. And as Tom was referring to this intergenerational conflict, I—maybe the word conflict’s a little strong—this separation in terms of views, we’re going to see this pendulum swing back and forth. Even within the gay community there is a debate about how aggressively and how quickly to move in pushing for equal rights. Some people say we need to wait a few more years as more younger voters go to the polls and they’ll bring the change that we want, some other people say we’ve waited long enough and we need to be proactively pushing for change, such as the activists did during the civil rights era. So I think we’re going to see a lot of discussion, both within the gay community and within the general public.

PENNER: And we have seen a change in the governor. Tom, the governor signed legislation declaring Harvey Milk Day in honor of the first openly gay elected official in the nation. He vetoed a similar bill last year, so has anything changed since last year?

YORK: Well, I think the governor changed, looks like to me. I – You know, having met Harvey Milk in my earlier days as a newspaper reporter and – I’d say that he was a pioneer in a very quiet way, and there’s a movie that just came out about him recently, and I think it’s really good to look at what he did and others did and to kind of see where we’ve been to help us see where we’re going to go. I was just thinking about the civil rights movement from year 1945, at the end of World War II, until 1970, the society went through a similar convulsion with the civil rights movement and today we don’t even think twice about the fact that, you know, people of color have equal rights, although 50 years ago we did, or 60 years ago.

PENNER: Well, finally, let’s stick with that idea for a moment because working its way through the federal courts now is a lawsuit seeking to overturn California’s same sex marriage ban, Proposition 8, and that was upheld by the California State Supreme Court but now the feds are taking a look at it. So what would that signal to you, Hieu, if that really does gain some traction in federal court?

PHAN: I think people I’ve talked with in the local gay community say what they find most hopeful about it is that the people pushing this lawsuit are not from the traditional gay community and so it may bring a better approach before the Supreme Court. I also think you’re going to see more and more states passing laws that give more rights, whether it’s civil rights or actual gay marriage rights, and that’s probably going to propel some momentum for the overall movement.

PENNER: Well, with that I want to thank my editors today, Hieu Tran Phan of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Tom York from the San Diego Business Journal. This has been the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner.


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