Finally. A big win for equality in California’s AG race

Liz Newcomb and I have both written about the importance of the California Attorney General’s race between Democrat Kamala Harris and Republican Steve Cooley. Harris said she wouldn’t defend Prop. 8 in Perry v. Schwarzenegger. Cooley said he would.

It was a nail biter, but, today, Cooley conceded.

Congratulations to Kamala Harris.




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Kamala Harris Likely to Replace Jerry Brown as California’s AG

Here in California, we have been waiting since election day to find out who will replace Jerry Brown as our next attorney general. The race has been a nail-biter, with the lead see-sawing between pro-marriage equality Democrat Kamala Harris and Republican Steve Cooley. Provisional and vote-by-mail ballots are still being counted, however it looks like Kamala Harris has definitively pulled ahead. I have been following the race via the facebook page of Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti, who has been providing a fascinating and detailed analysis of the vote-counting. Garcetti finally called the election for Harris yesterday.

The race has some implications for the Perry v. Schwarzenegger case. Readers will recall that current AG Jerry Brown and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declined to appeal Judge Walker’s ruling in favor of marriage equality on behalf of the state of California, which means there is now an issue as to whether anyone has standing to appeal. As Constitutional Law scholar David Cruz explained in a post for our blog, if no one has standing to appeal, the case will end with Judge Walker’s ruling intact and marriage equality restored to California. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal is set to hold its hearing on the standing issue on December 6, 2010. (C-SPAN will broadcast it.)

Whereas Harris promised during the campaign not to defend prop 8, Cooley said he would. Although the consensus among my lawyer friends and me is that it is too late for a new AG to appeal Judge Walker’s ruling, I nevertheless think a Cooley victory would have the potential to create some mischief. On the one hand, if the Ninth Circuit were to deny standing to the proponents of prop 8 while Cooley were AG, the pro-prop 8 crowd could make political hay out of his inability to intervene. On the other hand, if the Ninth Circuit were to grant standing and allow the case to continue, Cooley could write an amicus brief that could have some sway with the court.

The bottom line is that it is good news that Harris is poised for victory. If she wins, this entire issue will be moot. California will have elected by popular vote an AG who publicly took the position that she would not defend prop 8. The anti-marriage equality crowd will not be able to argue that California’s failure to appeal was due to an accident of timing. Go Kamala!




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California’s Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act (SB 906) A Step Away From Governor’s Desk

Opponents of marriage equality have falsely claimed that allowing same-sex couples to marry will force clergy to violate the tenets of their faiths. This bill should alleviate any concerns that restoring marriage equality will require clergy to perform weddings inconsistent with their faith.

~Geoff Kors, Executive Director of Equality California, regarding the Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act (SB 905).

Oh, those optimists at Equality California.

Last week, the California State Assembly voted to approve the Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act (SB 906). Thumbnail Link to Equality California's webpage for the Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act (SB 906)Since the California State Senate voted to approve the bill in late May, this bill one State Senate vote away from heading off to Governor Schwarzenegger’s desk.

What is SB 906 designed to do? Per the State Senate’s webpage for SB 906:

This bill distinguishes between civil and religious marriage by clarifying that a civil marriage is established pursuant to a State of California marriage license, to which the consent of the parties capable of making that contract is necessary. This bill specifies that no priest, minister, rabbi, or authorized person of any religious denomination would be required to solemnize a marriage that is contrary to the tenets of his/her faith. This bill additionally states that any refusal to solemnize a marriage under that provision shall not affect the tax exempt status of any entity.

One might think most, if not all, social conservatives would be for a bill that specifically guaranteed their First Amendment freedom of religion protections, especially when it came to specific protections for ministers who don’t want to solemnize marriages that they believe are immoral. That, of course, is so not so.

The Baptist Press’s Innocent-Sounding Calif. Bill Could Help Legalize ‘Gay Marriage’, Some Say quotes the California Family Council‘s past Legislative Coordinator, Everett Rice, said this regarding the evils of SB 906.

The concern is over the specific changing of the California statute to create a new class of civil marriage. We are concerned that that’s going to become another avenue of actually changing the definition of marriage itself. That’s been pretty much the focus of Sen. Leno’s and those who support homosexual marriage. Our concern is that the bill incrementally begins the process of doing that. What we’ve seen in the past is that measures like these incrementally try to change whole institutions.

The California Family Council website itself states that their organizationopposes this legislation. This organization — an organization which identifies itself as being associated with Focus on the Familystates why they oppose SB 906:

Existing law defines marriage as a personal relation arising out of a civil contract between a man and a woman, to which the consent of the parties capable of making that contract is necessary.

This bill would instead define the term civil marriage as a personal relation arising out of a civil contract between a man and a woman, established pursuant to a State of California marriage license issued by the county clerk, to which the consent of the parties capable of making that contract is necessary.

The bill would also make conforming related changes by changing certain references to marriage to civil marriage.

That said, the California Southern Baptist Convention stated they believe the SB 906 to be “good legislation.” From the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Bill Would Let Clergy Refuse To Marry Gays:

Several religious organizations support the measure, including the California Southern Baptist Convention, which supported Prop. 8. Terry Barone, spokesman for the convention, called it “good legislation.”

“That certainly would seem to add protections for a clergy member who, for whatever reason, might be hesitant to perform a marriage ceremony,” he said.

So, where do you think California Republicans stand on this bill? Per California’s State Senate website, voting against this were Republican assemblymembers Anthony Adams (59th Assembly District), Joel Anderson (77th Assembly District), Bill Berryhill (26th Assembly District), Tom Berryhill (25th Assembly District), Connie Conway (34th Assembly District), Paul Cook (65th Assembly District), Chuck DeVore (70th Assembly District), Jean Fuller (32nd Assembly District), Gaines (4th Assembly District), Martin Garrick (74th Assembly District), Danny Gilmore (30th Assembly District), Curt Hagman (60th Assembly District), Diane Harkey (73rd Assembly District), Kevin Jeffries (66th Assembly District), Steve Knight (36th Assembly District), Dan Logue (3rd Assembly District), Jeff Miller (71st Assembly District), Brian Nestande (64th Assembly District), Roger Niello (5th Assembly District), Jim Nielsen (2nd Assembly District), Norby (72nd Assembly District), Jim Silva (67th Assembly District), Cameron Smyth (38th Assembly District), Audra Strickland (37th Assembly District), Van Tran (68th Assembly District), and Mike Villines (29th Assembly District) all voted against the bill — That’s the entirety of the California Assembly Republican Caucus. The votes from California State Senate Republican Caucus on this bill are in the same vein as the California Assembly Republican Caucus, with the exception of two Republican State Senators (Dave Cox and Tom Harman) who did not have votes recorded on the bill.

One only can wonder how one could actually have worded the freedom of religion protections of SB 906 to satisfy the most right wing portion of the religious right and California’s Republicans. I have a feeling one couldn’t design language that would be satisfactory to these folk.

My personal opinion on this is that the Republican politicians and the furthest right of the religious right would rather hold onto their false freedom of religion and freedom of speech arguments regarding any legislation that remotely deals with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. In my opinion, these folk want to make those arguments into the future, even when legislators are trying to directly address those concerns head on.

Mario Guerrero, the Government Affairs Director for Equality California, asked the question Will California’s Republicans stand for religious freedom? We now know the answer to that question, and the answer is “No.”

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Further Reading:

* Equality California: California Passes Legislation Strengthening Religious Freedoms

* BCNN1.com: New California Bill Protects Pastors from Performing Homosexual Marriages; but It Could Legalize ‘Homosexual Marriage’ by Calling All Marriages Civil Unions

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Related:

* Equality California Sponsors Bill Strengthening Religious Freedoms for Clergy
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