EDITORIAL, NYTimes on
the Web. September 9, 2005
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a
profile in timidity this week when he vowed to veto a pioneering bill
authorizing gay marriage in California. The bill, which both houses of the
Legislature passed by narrow margins, would expand the definition of marriage to
include a civil contract between two people, not exclusively a man and woman.
This was an enlightened and fair-minded stand that made California's Legislature
the first in the nation to approve same-sex marriages.
Too bad Mr. Schwarzenegger could not find the courage to sign the bill into law.
Instead, even before receiving the bill, he announced a tortured rationale for
vetoing it. For years, social conservatives have accused judges of
deciding social issues that should be left to legislators. Now Mr.
Schwarzenegger wants to ignore his Legislature and leave gay marriage to the
courts or the voters at large to decide.
He relies on a fig leaf: five years ago, Californians voted overwhelmingly
for a ballot measure that recognized only heterosexual marriages as valid.
A statement by the governor's press office declared, "We cannot have a system
where the people vote and the Legislature derails that vote."
That ignores the fact that five years is an eternity in the fast-moving arena of
gay rights. Even though 61 percent of the voters approved the ballot
measure, recent polls show that the electorate is now evenly split, with
Democrats and independents favoring same-sex marriage and Republicans strongly
opposed. The Legislature is hardly a renegade body if it roughly mirrors
Mr. Schwarzenegger also seems to have forgotten that this nation was founded as
a republic, in which the citizens elect legislators to govern on their behalf.
Such representative democracy is especially important when it comes to
protecting the fundamental rights of minorities, who may face bigoted hostility
from some segments of the electorate.
It's easy to guess why Mr. Schwarzenegger was in such a hurry to announce his
veto. Although he was initially hailed as a centrist Republican superhero
who could appeal to a broad range of voters, his popularity has plummeted, and
polls show that most Californians are inclined to oppose his re-election.
Only his Republican base continues to back him.
Mr. Schwarzenegger's own views of gay marriage are hidden beneath vague,
elusive, sometimes contradictory comments that add up to ducking the issue.
The former Mr. Universe who has derided political opponents as "girlie men" is
afraid to say what he really thinks. He falls back on a rationale that
would leave the issue to the courts or another vote of the people.
Anything to get him off the hook.