Schwarzenegger signs Milk Day, marriage recognition into law

by Roger Brigham

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday October 12, 2009

Supporters of a special day to honor pioneering gay activist Harvey Milk have long been working toward this day. Now they can circle their calendars: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger late Sunday signed off on Harvey Milk Day as a state holiday.

The GOP governor last year had vetoed the creation of such a day and had threatened to do so again this year. But wait, as they say in the infomercials: There's more. Much more.

Schwarzenegger has signed into law a bill that will call on the state to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who were legally married in other states during the brief time that same-sex marriages were legal in California. He also approved legislation to expand services for LGBT survivors of domestic violence.

With the state mired in economic woes, Schwarzenegger threatened to let some 700 bills die without action. He said he wanted the Legislature to address efforts to fix the state's water supply first.

That made the outlook gloomy for the LGBT bills, which had drawn the scorn of far-right critics. Schwarzenegger did veto the "Equal ID Act," which would allow transgender individuals to obtain revised birth certificates certifying their current gender. He also vetoed a "LGBT Prisoner Safety Act," which would have called for gender identity and orientation to be considered when housing prisoners.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that after the legislators closed their talks on the water system without a deal, Schwarzenegger decided that enough progress had been made. He then signed at least 230 bills overnight before the midnight deadline--and vetoed more than 220 others.

Supporters wanted to mark May 22 as an annual Harvey Milk Day. They had pinned their hopes on the attention garnered by the film "Milk" late last year after Schwarzenegger's previous veto. But the governor countered Milk's accomplishments were not well known enough outside the Bay Area to merit a holiday.

"The Harvey Milk Day bill marks the first time in the nation's history that a state will officially recognize and celebrate the contributions of an openly LGBT person with an annual day of special significance," said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California. "Californians will now learn about Harvey's amazing contributions to the advancement of civil rights for decades to come. He is a role model to millions, and this legislation will help ensure his legacy lives on forever."

Kors expressed gratitutde to the Governor for signing these measures into law "and rising above partisan politics to improve the lives of LGBT Californians."

"The Marriage Recognition and Family Protection Act" calls on the state to recognize same-sex marriages conducted in 2008 outside the state before voters enacted Proposition 8 ended marriage equality in California.

"When California offered marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2008, spouses who were already married in another state or country were prohibited from re-marrying in California," said the bill's author, Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). "Now those couples and their families are in limbo because their rights and protections under law are not clear. This new law will ensure that same-sex couples are protected by existing California law that recognizes all marriages equally, regardless of where they are performed."

Harvey Milk Day is largely ceremonial. State offices won't close, although schools are encouraged to provide information about Milk on that day. More immediate and concrete results may be seen from the "LGBT Domestic Violence Programs Expansion Bill", which will fund LGBT-specific domestic violence programs throughout the state through a $23 fee tacked onto domestic partnership registrations. The bill also modifies the requirements funding seekers must meet.

"Given the shortage of adequate care for our community," said bill author Assemblyman John P?©rez (D-Los Angeles), "I am thrilled that this legislation will help ensure that all LGBT survivors of domestic violence will have increased access to culturally competent care and resources."

Roger Brigham, a freelance writer and communications consultant, is the San Francisco Editor of EDGE. He lives in Oakland with his husband, Eduardo.