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Gay rights groups pursue legislation

By Dan Walters
San Jose Mercury News

As the 2007 California legislative session begins its final throes, the annual duel between gay-rights groups and their conservative foes is being rejoined.

The former have already scored one victory in the much-delayed budget that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed last month, a first-ever appropriation for aid to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) victims of domestic violence.

"These types of government and non-profit partnerships have for many years kept many Californians healthy, safe and self-sufficient, and for the first time the California budget includes such funds for LGBT-specific services," Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, declared after the budget was signed.

There's no shortage of other issues to fuel the perpetual battle between pro- and anti-LGBT rights groups in the dying days of the session. If history is a guide, the pro side will pretty much have its way in a Legislature dominated by liberal Democrats, but the final decision will rest with Schwarzenegger, who sometimes supports the LGBT agenda and sometimes does not.

The American Civil Liberties Union dispatched letters to its activists last week, urging them to pressure Schwarzenegger on this year's batch of bills and noting that during the last biennial legislative session, "Our top five pieces of (LGBT) legislation were vetoed by this governor."

The biggest casualty was a bill to allow same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses and marry. Schwarzenegger said in his veto message that he was upholding the expression of popular sentiment in Proposition 22, enacted in 2000 and aimed at restricting marriages to opposite-gender couples.
The measure is back as Assembly Bill 43, again carried by Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and is one of the most fiercely contested LGBT measures awaiting final action.

Both sides, however, are also gearing up on Senate Bill 777 by Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Los Angeles, which would add sexual orientation to the conditions that schools must protect by prohibiting instruction or other action that "promotes a discriminatory bias."

Kuehl and other proponents characterize it as protecting the civil rights and safety of LGBT students, but opponents such as the California Family Council see it as discriminating against those with religious opposition to homosexuality.

"Passage of this bill would essentially silence students and teachers from the free expression of any beliefs and opinions contrary to a total and complete acceptance of all forms of sexual behavior," the council says in one of its call-to-action bulletins. The Capitol Resource Institute brands SB 777 as "homosexual indoctrination in schools."

Another flash point is Assembly Bill 14 by Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, which expands the reach of the 4-decade-old Unruh Civil Rights Act, including sexual orientation. And still another is Senate Bill 11 by Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, which would expand "domestic-partner" rights now held by same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples over 62 years old to all opposite-sex couples over 18 years of age.

Assembly Bill 102 by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, would, among other things, allow same-sex couples registering as domestic partners to change their names, and anti-gay rights groups say it's another step toward legalizing same-sex marriage. Those groups may, however, be fighting a losing battle, regardless of what happens on this year's bills, the court battles over Proposition 22 and same-sex marriage or pending ballot measures.

Gay rights advocates, recent polls indicate, appear to be winning the battle of public opinion on same-sex marriage, which is the most symbolically important of the LGBT issues.

DAN WALTERS (dwalters@sacbee.com) is a columnist for the Sacramento Bee.

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