Pursuing the debate

As the future of same-sex marriage continues to unfold, the
debate is still hot
Same-sex marriage has landed a place in California’s history books several times, and though Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill last month that would have legalized same-sex marriage in the state, the decision is still hotly debated.

People on both sides of the issue can agree on one thing: The vetoed bill is not the final word on gay and lesbian marriages.

“Both the conservative advocates and homosexual advocates are going to fight about this one for many, many years to come,” said Brian Arendt, a conservative and the associate pastor of youth and education at FirstBaptist Church in Gilroy.

Assemblyman Simón Salinas, D-Salinas, agrees.

“Certainly there are other initiatives out there from both sides,” he said. “This debate will continue.”

Same-sex marriage shot to the political forefront in 2000 when Proposition 22, a measure that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman, appeared on the California ballot. The measure was approved by about 61 percent of voters. Voters in San Benito County also approved it with 61 percent. The margin was narrower in Santa Clara County, with about 53 percent approving the measure.

The issue made headlines again in February 2004 when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom had city officials issue marriage licenses and perform wedding ceremonies for gay couples. For four weeks, about 4,000 same-sex couples married, and about 2,700 others were waiting for appointments when the California Supreme Court put a stop to the ceremonies.

Proposition 22 became the basis of Schwarzenegger’s decision to veto the most recent bill regarding same-sex marriage. The governor called the bill unconstitutional because it was in direct opposition to Proposition 22.

But Cece Pinheiro of Santa Cruz, who has been in a relationship with her partner Darlene Wilcox for 10 years, says it’s unconstitutional that gay couples are treated as second-class citizens.

Social security benefits, tax breaks and visitation rights in the hospital are examples of rights that traditional married couples receive but gay couples do not, said Pinheiro, who is not related to Gilroy Mayor Al Pinheiro.

In a written statement, Schwarzenegger said he believes “the matter should be determined not by legislative action, but by court decision or another vote of the people of our state.” Pinheiro said she felt the governor sold out California’s gay population.

“He promised to support the gay civil rights movement in his election campaign, and he chickened out,” she said. “Instead of serving the people, he has his sights set on his next election. It’s really disheartening.”

Salinas said he believes there are initiatives in the works to ban domestic partnerships as well as prevent the sanctioning of same-sex marriages.

“I’ll be curious to see where the governor stands on these new initiatives,” he said.

Senator Jeff Denham, R-Merced, supported the governor’s veto.

He did not return calls before press time.

Associate Pastor Arendt, who also supported the veto, said he understands the governor can’t change a decision made by voters.

“According to the Bible, marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said. “But that doesn’t preclude homosexuals from having a committed relationship.”

Though it is an important label to others, Pinheiro said the word “married” isn’t important to her – but receiving the same rights as a traditional married couple is.

“Whatever married people get, domestic partners should get,” Pinheiro said. “We’re not asking for special rights; we’re asking for equal rights.”

Wilcox, an elementary-school teacher in Watsonville, said same-sex marriage isn’t as much about supporting the individuals involved as it is supporting gay families.

All families should be “OK,” she said, including those headed by single parents, heterosexuals and homosexuals.

“To see this problem as affecting ‘gays’ is backwards,” Wilcox said. “It’s the kids in gay families who end up suffering when their parents don’t have marriage rights.”

Several children Wilcox has taught are from gay families, she said.

Wilcox also helped raise Pinheiro’s daughter, Tami, who was 14 years old when the two fell in love.

As of September, Massachusetts is the only state that recognizes same-sex marriages.

California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, Vermont and Washington D.C. all give gay couples some legal rights as domestic partners, though not the same rights as a heterosexual married couple.

Sixteen states have constitutional amendments explicitly barring the recognition of same-sex marriage, and 27 states have legal statutes defining marriage as involving two people of the opposite sex.

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