Gender-Neutral Marriage Bill Reappears in California

A once-dismissed bill to legalize same-sex marriage is attempting a comeback in California's Senate as lawmakers reconsider it this week.

The bill had been defeated by four votes in the state senate in June; however Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who co-authored the original measure, employed a "gut and amend" tactic to change a bill about fishing into a bill to legalize same-sex marriage so senators could see it again.

If approved by the Senate, the bill must return to the state assembly and then on to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has not said whether he will sign it into law.

Commenting on the possibility that the bill will pass through the 40 member senate, Leno said, "We believe we have the necessary 21 votes there," according to Bay City News.

The gender-neutral marriage bill is among several other movements competing to define marriage in the state. Measures such as the ones being advanced by the Vote Yes Marriage and Protect Marriage groups are attempting to define marriage as only being between one man and one woman.

Both measures have been endorsed by Christian organizations but Vote Yes Marriage goes one step farther by aiming to prevent "legal unions" of same-sex partners, what initiative supporters have called marriage in another name. Both initiatives aim to appear before voters in 2006.

In a statement, Randy Thomasson – the president of Campaign for Children and Families, which also sponsors Vote Yes Marriage – urged the governor to oppose the gender-neutral bill.

"We call upon Governor Schwarzenegger to announce that he will veto this anti-marriage, anti-voter bill," he affirmed in a released statement.

Critics of the proposed bill have said that it runs counter to California voters' wishes. They say that the current bill is violating the state constitution because one of its clauses prohibits the legislature from overturning a voter backed initiative. In 2000, voters passed Proposition 22, which specifically banned approval for same-sex marriage.

Bill proponents say the year 2000 proposition only prohibits the state from approving of out of state same-sex marriages not in-state same-sex marriages.

Equality California, a group which promotes gay rights and is sponsoring the gender-neutral bill, released a statement where it quoted Leno saying that approval of the bill would not only benefit the state economically, but would also be "humane."

"Allowing same sex couples to access one another’s health care plans, make joint medical decisions, inherit one another’s property, file joint tax returns, and provide for their children without fear of them falling into foster care should one partner pass away is not only humane but fiscally prudent,” he said, according to Equality California.