- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 13, 2009

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s late-Sunday flurry of bill-signings produced a pair of groundbreaking victories for the state’s gay rights community.

Mr. Schwarzenegger signed into law hotly debated legislation honoring slain San Francisco gay rights leader Harvey Milk with a “day of special significance,” shortly before the midnight Sunday deadline. The governor vetoed the same bill last year.

Mr. Schwarzenegger said then that Mr. Milk should be honored locally, not statewide, but Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said the governor changed his mind in response to the late supervisor’s recent rise to prominence. Mr. Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in August, and a movie about his life, “Milk,” won two Academy Awards, including one for Sean Penn as best actor.

“He believes Harvey Milk symbolizes the contributions of the gay community in California,” said Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear. “Over the past year he’s become much more well-known.”

Mr. Schwarzenegger also signed a bill recognizing as “domestic partnerships” tens of thousands of same-sex marriages performed across the country. The bill covers both gay weddings performed outside California since May 2008 and inside California in the May-November window when the Golden State performed gay marriages.

The California Supreme Court declared traditional marriage discriminatory in a ruling on May 15, 2008, but that decision was overturned six months later with the passage Nov. 5 of Proposition 8. During that time, about 18,000 same-sex couples had married in California, placing their legal status in limbo.

Six states - Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Iowa, Maine and New Hampshire - have approved recognition of same-sex marriage. The Maine law is being challenged by a referendum in the November election.

“As required by Proposition 8, California will not recognize such couples as ‘married,’ ” said Mr. Schwarzenegger in a statement. “However, Senate Bill 54 will provide the same legal protections that would otherwise be available to couples that enter into civil unions or domestic partnerships out-of-state. In short, this measure honors the will of the people in enacting Proposition 8 while providing important protections to those unions legally entered into in other states.”

California allows same-sex couples to enter into domestic partnerships with the same rights, protections and responsibilities of traditional marriage.

The Harvey Milk Day bill creates no new state holiday but rather a “day of special significance” honoring the late San Francisco city supervisor on May 22, his birthday. The state already has four such days: the Day of the Teacher, John Muir Day, California Poppy Day, and Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.

Conservative groups launched a letter-writing campaign aimed at discouraging the governor from signing the bill, saying Mr. Milk was an inappropriate role model for children. Equality California, the gay-rights group that sponsored the bill, countered by submitting 40,000 petitions to the governor’s office.

Comments numbered in the tens of thousands. Those opposing the bill outnumbered those in favor by about 3 to 1, said Mr. McLear.

“This is truly historic,” said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California. “I think the governor realized the impact Harvey Milk had on so many people. He was a civil rights leader for the [lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered] community.”

The move infuriated conservatives. The bill encourages public schools and other educational institutions to use Harvey Milk Day to recall his life and accomplishments.

Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com, which led the opposition to Harvey Milk Day, called Mr. Milk a “sexual predator,” saying that he preferred relationships with teenagers and advocated having more than one relationship at a time, according to his biography, “The Mayor of Castro Street” by Randy Shilts.

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