September 7, 2005

Schwarzenegger to veto gay marriage bill

By Jim Christie

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger said on Wednesday he will veto a bill to allow
gay marriage in the state and said the issue should be decided
by the courts or by voters directly but not by the
Democrat-controlled legislature.

A veto had been widely expected after California's Assembly
on Tuesday endorsed gay marriage, the first time a state
legislature had taken such a step. California's Senate passed
the bill last week.

Schwarzenegger's press secretary, Margita Thompson, said
the governor "believes that gay couples are entitled to full
protection under the law and should not be discriminated
against based upon their relationship."

But since California voters approved a ballot measure five
years ago defining marriage as between a man and a woman, the
question of gay marriage should be put to voters again in a
referendum or decided by courts, she said.

"We cannot have a system where the people vote and the
legislature derails that vote," Thompson said.

Gay marriage is under review in California courts following
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's decision in 2004 to issue
marriage licenses to same-sex couples -- a move that set off a
national debate.

California's Supreme Court has invalidated the San
Francisco licenses, but left the wider issue of whether the ban
on gay marriage is constitutional to lower courts.

Democrats admit the gay marriage bill was largely a
symbolic gesture and had said they did not expect support from
Schwarzenegger, a moderate Republican grappling with declining
voter support.

"It certainly seems like he wants the courts to make the
decision for him, but we truly feel like we did the right
thing," said Richard Stapler, an aide to Assembly Speaker
Fabian Nunez.


Republican media consultant Wayne Johnson said it was
inconceivable Schwarzenegger would have signed the bill because
his approval ratings have slumped, leaving him with only
Republican support. "The people who are his strongest
supporters are among the least likely to support this bill,"
said Johnson.

Schwarzenegger faces an uphill struggle to convince voters
to back ballot measures in an unpopular special November
election he has called.

A Field Poll released on Wednesday found 56 percent of
California voters are not inclined to support Schwarzenegger if
he seeks re-election.

But voters hold the state legislature in even lower regard,
one analyst said, allowing Schwarzenegger the opportunity to
cast his veto of the gay marriage bill as a defense of existing
state law.

"He can wrap himself in the rule of law and say, 'The
people have spoken,"' said Tony Quinn, co-editor of the
California Target Book, which tracks state political races.
"This is probably one issue in which Schwarzenegger is probably
a winner at a time when he has very few issues going his way."