Gay rights advocates are commending two bills signed by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Sunday, one creating a state day of recognition for the late activist Harvey Milk and one granting the rights of marriage to same-sex couples who legally wed in other states. The bills, both introduced by state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), were among several hundred signed by Schwarzenegger just before the deadline for him to evaluate bills passed by the Legislature prior to September 11, 2009, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Governor’s spokesperson, Aaron McLear, told the San Francisco Chronicle that recent recognition of Milk including a 2008 film about his life and the posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded to him by President Obama influenced Schwarzenegger to approve the day of honor after vetoing it last year. The legislation designates May 22, Milk’s birthday, not as a state holiday, but as a day for public schools to discuss his activism, reports the Desert Sun. Milk became one of the nation’s first openly gay elected officials when he won the race for San Francisco Supervisor in 1978. He was assassinated less than a year into his term.
The second gay rights bill signed by Schwarzenegger recognizes the marriages of same-sex couples legally wed in California or other states before California’s passage of Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage in November 2008. The unions of same-sex couples legally wed in other states after Proposition 8, however, will not be recognized as “marriage” but will entitle the couple to all the rights and protections of spouses under California law, according to an Equality California press release. Schwarzenegger explained that the measure “honors the will of the People in enacting Proposition 8 while providing important protections to those unions legally entered into in other states,” reports the Sacramento Bee.
Equality California, which sponsored the two bills, applauded Governor Schwarzenegger’s actions while highlighting the need for more rights. Executive Director Geoff Kors hailed the gay union bill as providing “much needed protections for same-sex couples,” but emphasized that “restoring the freedom to marry is the only way to ensure that all Californians receive the dignity and respect that comes with marriage.” Kors also criticized Schwarzenegger’s veto of two transgender rights bills that would have allowed transgender people to obtain new birth certificates and that would require prisons to consider inmates’ sexual orientation and gender identity in order to house them safely.