September 7, 2005

Analysts see veto of California gay marriage bill

By Jim Christie

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Aiming to shore up support among
his Republican base, a politically weakened Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger seems almost certain to veto a bill that would
allow gay marriage in California, political analysts said on

The bill, passed late on Tuesday in California's
Democrat-led Assembly, marked the first time a state
legislature in the United States has endorsed gay marriage. The
state Senate backed the bill last week.

A spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger said the governor supports
Proposition 22, a voter-approved measure defining marriage as
between a man and woman. He also believes the courts are the
"correct venue" for deciding on the state's ban on same-sex
marriages, she 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 is largely a symbolic
gesture and they do not expect Schwarzenegger to back it.

"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 sign 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 has struggled with sinking poll numbers and
faces an uphill struggle to convince voters to back ballot
measures in a special November election he 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
so Schwarzenegger would be able to veto the gay marriage bill
claiming it 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."

The gay marriage bill would have a better chance of
surviving if Schwarzenegger was not on the defensive before the
November election, said Allan Hoffenblum.

"There's no intolerance here but he's aware that ... there
is still not a political consensus on the issue" of gay
marriage, said Hoffenblum, who noted that Schwarzenegger has
supported expanded rights for gay couples registered as
domestic partners.