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Fishy business

Marriage | How California Democrats turned fishing legislation into a same-sex marriage bill

Issue: "Katrina: Week 2," Sept. 17, 2005

Shoved along by single-issue politicians like homosexual Assemblyman Mark Leno of San Francisco, the Democrat-dominated California statehouse tried for at least three years to legalize gay marriage. Still, Republican Assemblyman Ray Haynes was stunned when it finally happened.

On Sept. 6, the Golden State legislature became the first in the nation not under court-order duress to approve homosexual marriage. The 41-35 vote rumbled mainly down the fault-line that divides Republicans and Democrats in the state: Only three Democrats, all Latinos, crossed party lines to vote no on AB 849. Democrats Joe Baca and Jerome Horton, along with Bonnie Garcia, a Republican, abstained.

The next day, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his intention to veto the bill-not because he opposes gay marriage, but because he thinks voters or the courts should decide the issue. Still, the passage of AB 849 highlights again the power and audacity of the liberals who run the California statehouse and ignore voter referenda results. (See "The liberal future?" Aug. 30, 2002.)

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Mr. Haynes, in his 13th year in the Assembly, said, "I didn't think I'd ever see this while I was here." That's because the legislature's GOP minority, aided by vocal citizens and conservative activists, had successfully held off gay marriage for years. As recently as June, when the Senate passed another gay-marriage bill, the assembly nixed it twice in the same week-three times, if you count technicalities.

But technicalities, and even rules, Mr. Haynes notes, don't seem to bother Golden State Democrats. After their June defeat, the legislature's gay caucus bypassed the assembly by using "gut and amend," a procedure in which language in a bill already passed by one chamber is replaced with new language by the receiving chamber.

The "gut and amend" was originally intended to speed passage of emergency bills by routing them around parliamentary hoops. But in using the procedure, lawmakers must abide by the "rule of germaneness," which says that a "gutted" bill must be related to the "amended" bill that replaces it. In the case of AB 849, though, the California Senate turned a bill that would have established formal ties between California fishermen and research scientists into one that approved marital ties between people of the same gender.

GOP lawmakers howled about the rule-breaking, but Senate Democrats quickly passed AB 849 anyway. Last week the bill returned to the assembly, where Democrats passed it with exactly the number of votes they needed, breaking at least three rules in the process. First, they enacted legislation that contradicted existing law (Prop. 22, a 2000 referendum that limits California to traditional marriage) without addressing that law.

Second, they violated a state constitutional provision that says a law passed by referendum can only be changed by referendum. Finally, they violated a separate constitutional provision that prohibits passage of any law "that subverts the will of the people." Nearly two-thirds of Californians supported Prop. 22.

"This proves Democrats will violate any rule, any law, and even the Constitution to advance their political agenda," Mr. Haynes said. It certainly looked that way. During Senate hearings on AB 849, Democrat Gil Cedillo said that he knew very well that nearly two-thirds of Californians had voted in 2000 to preserve traditional marriage. But sometimes, he testified, the people "are wrong."

On Sept. 6, Assembly Democrats had a similar attitude, according to California Policy Council legislative director Karen Holgate. Although GOP lawmakers pointed out that only six of California's 58 counties had voted to allow same-sex marriage, Democrats kept repeating that they were "elected to exert leadership," Ms. Holgate said: "They passed AB 849 in direct defiance of the people of this state."

Republican Assemblyman Jay La Suer called AB 849's passage "a horrible vote that betrayed the citizens of California and the children of this state. . . . Everyone that voted for it should feel the wrath of the people."

Given the Schwarzenegger veto, the legislature's liberal coup, in the end, yielded more smoke than fire. But gay marriage in California isn't dead yet. Earlier this year, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer struck down as unconstitutional state laws restricting marriage to one man and one woman. An appeals court is now considering the case.

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