Thursday, September 08, 2005

Schwarzenegger Plays The Terminator Again

The California legislature became the first legislature in the nation to approve legislation re-defining its marriage law to include same sex relationships. But before the ink was even dry on the enrolled act, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stepped into his famed role as "The Terminator" and announced his intention to veto it. In explaining his decision, Governor Schwarzenegger acted like a politician practicing "business as usual" politics instead of the stand-up, straight-talking leader Californians elected in its recall election to replace former Governor Gray Davies.

When Schwarzenegger set out on his unlikely campaign for governor two years ago as a Republican in a heavily Democratic state, he distinguished himself as a fiscal conservative and a social moderate with very pro-civil rights views in the tradition of the Party of Lincoln. In so doing, he won the support of middle-of-the-road voters, as well as the state's more conservative voters. He faced down the legislature on a number of issues early in his administration making it clear that it was not "business as usual." His efforts to balance the worse budget deficit in the state's history have earned him high marks.

On the issue of gay rights, both as a candidate and as governor, Schwarzenegger has been unabashed about his view that gays and lesbians are entitled to equal treatment under the law. In fact, his press office restated that view in announcing his decision to veto California's gay marriage legislation: "In Governor Schwarzenegger's personal life and work in public service, he has considered no undertaking to be more noble than the cause of civil rights. He believes that gay couples are entitled to full protection under the law and should not be discriminated against based upon their relationship. He is proud that California provides the most rigorous protections in the nation for domestic partners."

If that is how Governor Schwarzenegger truly feels, then why would he veto the gay marriage legislation? Pure politics. Rather than take the heat from voters who oppose gay marriage, Governor Schwarzenegger chose to punt the decision to the California Supreme Court. A voter-led initiative adopted five years ago in California banned same sex marriages. A lower court ruled earlier this year that the ban on same sex marriages violates the California constitution. Judge Richard Kramer found that the ban violated the "basic human right to marry a person of one's choice," and that "no rational purpose exists for limiting marriage in this state to opposite-sex partners." California's attorney general, Democrat Bill Lockyer, has appealed Kramer's decision. A final ruling from the California Supreme Court is not expected until sometime next year.

Many court observers in California believe that the California Supreme Court will likely overturn the state law banning same sex marriages, thereby paving the road for California to become the second state to legalize gay marriages after Massachusetts. Two years ago Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriages when its supreme court invalidated the state's marriage law, which limited marriage to heterosexual couples.

By vetoing California's gay marriage legislation, Schwarzenegger believes he can have it both ways. He makes far-right conservatives happy by vetoing gay marriages, knowing that before the next election the California Supreme Court will likely strike down California's law. The legislature will then pass the same legislation it passed this year, and Schwarzenegger will sign it into law. The crazies on the right will understand he has no choice and still vote for him, and the gay community will be content that California law is now on their side and forgive Schwarzenegger's earlier veto.

Schwarzenegger's decision to veto this measure may turn out to be the "play of the year" in the game of politics, but it unmistakably defines Schwarzenegger as just another crass politician rather than the stand-up leader he promised to be. He proves that he would rather lose his principles and win, than stand by his principles and lose.

No comments: