Governor Schwarzenegger signed two bills on Oct. 11 that many believe will help to further the cause of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
SB 572 honors Harvey Milk as the first openly gay politician elected in California. Milk was assassinated in 1978.
The measure mandates that the governor proclaim May 22 as Harvey Milk Day in the state, to coincide with Milk’s birthday. It is not a state holiday. The legislation encourages public schools in the state to conduct lessons “remembering the life of Harvey Milk, recognizing his accomplishments and familiarizing pupils with the contributions he made to this state,” according to the bill.
The bill passed the senate in May and the assembly last month.
“California’s recognition of Harvey Milk Day is an important step in educating the public of LGBT community’s history and contribution to this society,” said San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera. “It also serves as a reminder that we must achieve equality.”
The bill’s author, Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco/San Rafael), also listed reasons for the legislation’s importance.
“Harvey Milk Day will provide a great opportunity for Californians of all ages to better understand the struggle for LGBT civil rights,” Leno said. “This day also appropriately recognizes an American hero who gave his life serving in pubic office.”
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the measure was backed by Equality California, the largest gay-rights organization in the state. Geoff Kors, executive director of the group, said it would develop curriculum for schools and teachers to use on Milk’s birthday.
Schwarzenegger’s staff said the office heard from tens of thousands of people, both supporting and opposing the bill.
“[The bill is] the strongest impetus yet for loving parents to remove their children from anti-family public schools,” said the Campaign for Children and Families, which opposed the law, in an San Francisco Chronicle article.
SB 54 was also signed by the governor. This measure ensures that out-of-state couples who wed before the passage of Proposition 8 in November retain their status as “married,” while those moving to California who wed after the measure passed will retain all rights of marriage, save the name. Married couples who move to California will not have to register as domestic partners to have their relationships recognized by the state.
“[The bill] is necessary for thousands of same sex couples unclear on their marriage’s legal status,” Leno said. “This will clarify couples married legally outside of California will have the same rights and privileges of married couples.”
UC Davis English Professor Elizabeth Freeman, author of The Wedding Complex, agrees to a certain extent.
“It is a step in the right direction, certainly, for treating same and opposite-sex unions as equally valid,” Freeman said. “It’s also bit of a slap on the wrist to Prop 8, which has some symbolic value.”
Though Freeman was not against the bills, she said she is hesitant to back them wholeheartedly.
“Will either [bill] compensate for things like cutting the state’s AIDS prevention, education and services budget so dramatically?” she said. “Or decimating the UC system with cuts that put gay-affirmative student services, courses, faculty research and so on in jeopardy? I think not. The bill represents a couple of symbolic moves that cost [Schwarzenegger] very little, whereas his material cuts to the state’s public sector as a whole will impact gay people negatively in many ways.”
Freeman does not think the bills alone will have a great effect on the state.
“Marriage equality alone will not solve the deep socioeconomic inequalities that [Schwarzenegger]’s government has exacerbated in this state,” Freeman said. “It’s important to remember that Harvey Milk was not a one-issue politician, but a coalition-builder and a man committed to social justice on a number of fronts.”
ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached email@example.com.