Gay marriage advances

September 08, 2005

WITH HIGH drama befitting the historic occasion, the California House reversed itself Tuesday night and joined the state Senate to become the first legislature in the nation to grant its gay citizens the right to marry.

As an immediate consequence, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had been hoping the courts would resolve the contentious issue, has now been forced into taking a stand - and might well veto the measure.

But the broader significance of the California Assembly's decision is the milestone it serves along the sometimes halting but apparently inevitable path toward ensuring same-sex couples the legal rights, benefits and responsibilities of marriage.

Coupled with recent decisions by the state's highest court affirming the rights and responsibilities of gay parents, California's legal and political structure seems to be finally reflecting the heady days last year when San Francisco briefly became a mecca for gay couples eager to formalize their union.

Massachusetts went first, of course, affirming the right of gays to marry through a decision by that state's highest court. A similar result could occur in California when the state Supreme Court takes up a challenge to a ballot initiative passed five years ago that declared marriage can only involve one man and one woman.

There's something particularly heartening, though, about watching elected members of a legislative body stand up to the intolerance that often pervades debate on this topic, which is at its core about equal treatment before the law.

Mr. Schwarzenegger would earn himself lasting credit - and doubtless some long-term political capital - by becoming the first governor to formally enshrine these rights in law. But if he proves unequal to the challenge, no matter.

This civil rights struggle, which is progressing inch by inch throughout the nation and the world, will march on - with or without him.

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