Salinas Played Key Role on Gay Marriage

Local Assemblyman Simon Salinas cast the deciding vote on the
controversial and historic legislation to legalize same-sex
marriage, which passed the California Assembly in a 41-35
Tuesday.
Hollister – Local Assemblyman Simon Salinas cast the deciding vote on the controversial and historic legislation to legalize same-sex marriage, which passed the California Assembly in a 41-35 Tuesday.

Salinas, D-Salinas, had abstained from voting on the issue when it was rejected in the Assembly in June. But after promising the bill’s author, Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, that he would not let the bill fail, he cast his “aye” vote to cacophonous applause of gay rights supporters in the Assembly’s gallery, he said.

Salinas said the session was intense and emotional, especially when the tally, which hung at 40 “ayes” – one short of an approval – came down to his deciding vote.

“I figured this was one of those issues where you can’t stand on the sidelines,” Salinas said. “I listened to the debate and at the end you’re either against discrimination or you’re not. It’s a tough issue for some, but it was the right thing to do.”

The bill would change California’s legal definition of marriage from a “civil contract between a man and a woman” to a “civil contract between two persons.”

While the vote passed the Senate last week with a 21-15 vote, local Senator Jeff Denham, R-Merced, voted against the measure. No Republicans in the Assembly voted to approve the bill, but 41 of the 47 Democrats were able to put it over the top.

Denham and Salinas will go head-to-head in the 2006 election for Denham’s senate seat. Salinas, who said in his experience he’s known Denham to play hard-ball politics and try to win extra votes by raising character issues about his opponents, said his vote Tuesday will most likely be a hot-button issue come campaign time.

“I’ll explain to people and hope they realize I’ve spent my whole life fighting discrimination,” Salinas said. “I understand the implications of a vote like this. I hope he (Denham) will be civil about discussions. We all have to be able to sleep at night, and I can only control what I’m going to do.”

Denham has said he’s ready for open, honest debate, but was unavailable for comment Wednesday due to a death in the family, according to his aide, Nick Rappley.

Steve Presson, a campaign consultant for Denham, called Sen. Denham’s vote against the bill a “vote of conscience.”

“He (Denham) has always been a strong supporter of family values,” Presson said. “He recognizes the people of California have clearly spoken when they supported Prop. 22.” That proposition, passed in 2000, defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Presson said that with his vote Salinas was “thumbing his nose at the will of the voters in the 12th Senate district.” A majority of district voters voted in favor of Proposition 22, although the boundaries of the district were different at the time.

Local Republic Central Committee Chairperson Jennifer Zapata said she was extremely disappointed with Tuesday’s vote and believes if a law legalizing gay marriage is instated in California, it should be done so by a vote of the people.

“It’s only been five years since constituents overwhelmingly passed Proposition 22, the defense of marriage act that defines marriage between a man and a woman,” Zapata said. “By the Legislature making this most recent decision I believe what that’s saying is constituents’ opinions only have a shelf life of five years. It goes completely against what the voters want.”

While the California Legislature will now go into the history books as being the first legislative body in the country to approve a bill allowing same-sex marriage, it faces an uncertain future as it makes its way to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenneger’s desk.

A spokeswoman for Schwarzenneger has said the Republican governor believes the issue should be decided by the courts, not by his signature on legislation.

“He will uphold whatever the courts decides,” said spokeswoman Margita Thompson.

Schwarzenneger has intimated he will veto the bill, and has 30 days from Tuesday to make his decision.

The bill’s author, Leno, who said a recent poll found that Californians are now evenly divided over whether same-sex marriage should be legal, amended the provision of the bill defeated in June into another that already had passed the Assembly and was awaiting action in the Senate. It was that bill the Assembly approved on Tuesday.

However, opponents are already trying to qualify initiatives for the 2006 ballot that would amend the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriages.

California already gives same-sex couples many of the rights and duties of marriage if they register with the state as domestic partners. Massachusetts offers marriage licenses to gay couples and Vermont grants civil unions, but both resulted from court rulings rather than legislative action.

Whether the governor signs the bill into law or not, though, Salinas believes Tuesday’s vote is historic nonetheless and said he was proud to be part of it and not “duck important issues.”

“It’s something that many don’t want to see happen and others feel strongly about it,” Salinas said. “There is intense debate and it’s very emotional.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Erin Musgrave covers public safety for the Free Lance. Reach her at 637-5566, ext. 336 or [email protected]

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