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CA Assembly panel OKs gay marriage bill

by Steve Lawrence
Wednesday Apr 11, 2007

A state Assembly committee voted Tuesday for a bill that would allow gay couples to marry, despite a veto threat and a continuing debate over the legislation's constitutionality.

The Judiciary Committee approved the bill by Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, sending it to the Appropriations Committee, the last stop before the Assembly floor.

The 7-3 vote split along party lines, with Democrats backing the proposal and Republicans opposing it.

Lawmakers approved a nearly identical measure in 2005, but it was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The governor argued that it violated Proposition 22, an anti-gay marriage initiative adopted by California voters in 2000.

The Republican governor told a group of high school students in February that he would turn down the bill again if it reached his desk this year. But Leno said lawmakers should keep trying.

''The time has come for California to honor its commitment to equality for all Californians by allowing each of our citizens the right to marry the person he or she loves,'' he said.

He said failure to allow same-sex marriages would deny a long list of benefits to gays, including pension, health care and veterans' benefits available to married couples.

The bill's opponents, agreeing with Schwarzenegger, said the state Constitution prevents the Legislature from authorizing gay marriages unless voters first overturn Proposition 22.

''The Constitution says clearly that this Legislature cannot trump the vote of the people of California,'' said Randy Thomasson, president of the Campaign for Children and Families. ''The vote of the people of California seven years ago was to say only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.''

But Leno said Proposition 22 was drafted to prevent California from having to recognize gay marriages performed in other states and countries. He said his bill would amend another section of law dealing with marriages performed in California.

Proposition 22's authors could have broadened the measure's language to ensure that it also would ban same-sex marriages in California, but they failed to do so because of ''sloppiness and error on their part,'' Leno said.

''Their intent was to deny same-sex couples respect and dignity under the law,'' he said. ''They did not do their job well. They created the ambiguity.''

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