SACRAMENTO—A measure to legalize marriage for gay couples easily passed the California Assembly after a respectful debate Tuesday, in stark contrast to rancorous exchanges on the same issue two years ago.
The legislation by Assemblyman Mark Leno (D- San Francisco) would make California the only state besides Massachusetts to sanction same-sex couples, but it is likely to be vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"I don't care what pronouncements he's made, it's his job to come to learn about this issue and to let us have our moment," said Leno, an openly gay legislator. "I'm certain that he's an open-minded and open-hearted individual and when he learns more, he'll understand more."
The bill passed 42 to 34 after a 90-minute debate during which 27 of the Assembly's 80 members rose to speak. All Republicans voted no, and they were joined by two Democrats -- Nicole Parra of Hanford and Wilmer Amina Carter of Rialto.
Three other Democrats abstained: Juan Arambula of Fresno, Mike Davis of Los Angeles and Cathleen Galgiani of Stockton. Assemblywoman Nell Soto (D-Pomona) missed the vote due to illness.
Leno argued that California's existing domestic partnership laws do not give same-sex partners all the same rights and obligations afforded to married couples. He described a couple of 50 years. One of the men died of a heart attack, Leno said, and the survivor lost access to his partner's healthcare, Social Security and veteran's benefits and wound up homeless.
"That is what our public policymaking is doing," Leno said.
Although the chamber was crowded and hushed for the debate in 2005, the Assembly was half-empty Tuesday, and lawmakers walked around chatting.
Many Democrats who addressed the chamber called the issue one of equity, and compared it to women's suffrage and the civil rights movement.
"Our founding fathers used the word 'all,' not 'select,' when they talked about our rights," Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D- La Canada Flintridge) said.
Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D- Montebello) said that years ago he was frightened by the idea of gay marriage but he now sees it as a matter of fairness.
"Relationships between men and men and women and women have been with us since the beginning of time," Calderon said. "In fact, to the extent that we do recognize these relationships, they become more stable and more status quo and less threatening."
Republicans invoked Proposition 22, a 14-word initiative passed by voters in 2000 that states that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized. They said the issue should be determined by voters, not legislators.
Assemblywoman Sharon Runner (R- Lancaster) said voters "don't support marriage between anybody but a man and woman. They voted for it. If we believe California has changed, then we need to go back to the voters of California."
Assemblyman Doug La Malfa (R-Richvale), whose comments about homosexuality offended some Democrats during the debate two years ago, took a pensive tone Tuesday.
"We don't have any standards, any institutions that seem to be untouchable [by] the whim of this Legislature," La Malfa said softly. "That really saddens me, because there ought to be a few standards that do stand the test of time, marriage being one of them."
After an initial defeat on the Assembly floor in June 2005, Leno succeeded in shepherding a same-sex marriage bill through the Assembly and Senate three months later. That made California's Legislature the first in the nation to sanction same-sex marriage without a court order.
Schwarzenegger vetoed that bill, saying that although he believed gay couples are "entitled to full protection under the law," the bill would have wrongly reversed Proposition 22.
The California Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
The state Senate did not meet Tuesday. The Assembly also:
* Reconsidered and passed a bill that would ban the sale of toys and products intended for children under 3 that contain phthalates, chemicals listed by the state as toxic. The bill, AB 1108, by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco), passed 41 to 31 and goes to the Senate. Last week, the Assembly rejected the bill.
* Passed a bill to repeal a requirement that food stamp recipients be fingerprinted. Leno, author of the measure, AB 1382, said California ranks last in participation in the federally funded food stamp program. Only 39% of those eligible get benefits. He said fingerprinting "strongly suggests there is something criminal about being poor and hungry." Republicans called fingerprinting a reasonable step to stymie fraud. The bill passed 46 to 29 and goes to the Senate. Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill in 2005.
* Passed a bill to require the state to impose "green" standards for new commercial buildings starting in 2012. Assemblyman Ted Lieu (D- Torrance), author of AB 888, said that buildings account for nearly 40% of carbon dioxide emissions, which are linked to global warming. Standards to minimize energy consumption and maintenance will save owners money, he said.
Republicans opposed the bill, labeled a "job killer" by the California Chamber of Commerce. "The free market is working in this direction anyway," said Assemblyman Mike Duvall (R-Yorba Linda). The measure passed 43 to 28 and goes to the Senate.