CA Assembly Votes to Approve Same-Sex Marriage–Veto the Likely Fate of Bill

Cross-posted from PoliBlog:

Via the LAT: Same-sex unions OKd by Assembly

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.


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.

Part of the political context in California is that they have the ballot initiative mechanism (where a policy item can be placed on the ballot and voted up or down by the electorate) and in 2000 this issue did go to the voters:

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.”

Regardless of the obviously controversial nature of the issue on the table, this situation does raise some interesting questions of democratic policy making. If one has had a vote of the population on record on a given issue, does a legislative body have a legitimate right to override that vote without again asking the question of the voters?

Additionally, are there issues of minority protection that ought not be subject to pure democratic decision-making?

And, of course, it is likely that many people’s answers to these questions may shift depending on the issue on the table.

It does make for some interesting considerations in terms of democratic policy-making.

In regards to the specific politics of the situation, Governor Schwarenegger will base his veto decision on Proposition 22, which gives him an out, as he himself has (IIRC) publicly stated his support for the idea of same-sex marriage, but that is a position that his party does not.

FILED UNDER: LGBTQ Issues, US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Anderson says:

    does a legislative body have a legitimate right to override that vote without again asking the question of the voters?

    I don’t think it’s a question of “right.” Representative government is premised in part upon the deliberators’ arguably being wiser and better informed.

    The legislators are free to vote for gay marriage, and their constituents are free to vote them out. Assuming that the CA legislature isn’t packed with fire-eyed idealists, I’m guessing they have some basis for believing that the voters won’t really care much. Incumbents rarely vote themselves out of office.

  2. Director Mitch says:

    You miss in your analysis that a majority of people can feel one way, but due to how boundries are drawn (i.e. gerrymandering) the legislature may be represented by a minority viewpoint. Which is the case here.

  3. Bandit says:

    does a legislative body have a legitimate right to override that vote without again asking the question of the voters?

    Only if you agree with it

  4. Mitch hits on a very important issue: the way districts are drawn matter very much in an electoral system like the one we have in the US and that is used to elect the California State Legislature.

    As such, majority sentiment may not match up to the legislature’s.

    Of course that raises questions of whether that is a good thing or a bad thing in terms of democratic governance.

  5. Billy says:

    If one has had a vote of the population on record on a given issue, does a legislative body have a legitimate right to override that vote without again asking the question of the voters?

    Ask the Missouri legislature, regarding conceal and carry laws. A referendum to the contrary didn’t stop them from overriding the will of the electorate (and a gubenatorial veto) in 2003. It also didn’t stop the Republican Party from retaining power in the legislature thereafter.

  6. Anderson says:

    the way districts are drawn matter very much in an electoral system like the one we have in the US and that is used to elect the California State Legislature.

    Then vote against whoever opposes redrawing the districts … hm, can they redraw those via one of their Proposition thingies?

  7. Or you can just ask someone who lives in Missouri, like me for instance. The ballot initiative referred to above for concealed carry was narrowly voted down a couple of years ago. It is interesting perhaps to note that the population of only two counties in Missouri voted against the ballot initiative, but those two couties happened to be the ones in St. Louis and Kansas City. Needless to say, the Missouri legislature has a noticeably different makeup than the completely and overwhelmingly Democratic Party represntation to be found in those two cities. As soon as there was a Republican governor in Missouri, legislation to allow concealed carry was approved by the legislature and signed by the governor.

    Nothing untoward here, unless, of course, you want to posit that what yours is yours and what’s mine is always up for grabs. For intellectual consistency, compare and contrast the politics of the Stem Cell initiative with that of the Concealed Carry initiative that was conducted in the same election cycle. Or is one vote one time the law of the land. Imagine if we had never been able to repeal Prohibition!

  8. Steve Plunk says:

    In Oregon we have the option to file initiatives that if approved would change the constitution and the legislature has no power to overrule such a change. We can also choose by initiative to merely make it a statutory change leaving it open to legislative meddling. Over the years we have seen both and even seen attempted legislative meddling of the constitutional changes.

    One of the keys here is the ease of getting an initiative on the ballot for voter approval. The more difficult it is the less likely you will see trivial issues put before the voters.

    Generally I would expect elected officials to respect the will of the voters as expressed through referendum and initiative. The legislative body should at most only refer the question back to voters one time for another confirming vote after the effects are realized.

  9. Billy says:

    Charles, you might check some of your facts. 11 counties in MO (admittedly, a small minority, but) actually voted against Proposition B in 1999, among which were Nodaway, Buchanan, and St. Charles counties, hardly bastions of liberal sentiment. Only two counties voting against had greater than 2-1 margins, both of which were St. Louis (county and city respectively); contrast this with greater than 3-1 and 4-1 margins for the proposition in several southern counties. While it is true that over 70% of voters in St. Louis and Kansas City (which actually has presence in 3 counties) voted against the measure, the vote was close in the majority of counties in the state, with 66 counties tallying less than 2-1 margins on either side of the issue.
    Nevertheless, the voters defeated the conceal and carry initiative by nearly 40,000 votes, or over 3% of the total numbers.

    Additionally, Bob Holden (a Democrat) was governor when the Republican legislature passed the law over his veto, and the Missouri Stem Cell amendment was conducted in 2006, seven years after the conceal and carry initiative (so they weren’t in the same election cycle, and there’s really no comparison between the politics in each).

    All this nitpicking notwithstanding, your points are correct. If the voters truly don’t like what their representatives are doing, they can vote them out. Presumably, the legislators know that this won’t happen, or else they simply don’t care.

  10. just me says:

    This is one reason I am not generally in favor of ballot initiatives.

    I do think given the fact that there is a ballot initiative on record, and a legislature that seems to be of a differing opinion that maybe taking the initiative back to the people for a revote is in order, a lot may have changed in the last 7 years, and it is possible the people of California are fine with the proposed legislation, but this kind of catch 22 is what ballot initiatives create.

    I would just rather see people elect state representatives and senators and let their representatives represent them-if they don’t like a proposed action-then lobby the state congress member.

  11. John D says:

    A small correction:

    Schwarenegger famous said “I think same-sex marriage is something that should be between a man and a woman.”

    While he has a good record on gay rights, this is one area where he is not supportive.

  12. Thanks for the corrections, pedantry is perfectly acceptable. Admittedly, I was working from memory, and there’s no good reason for me to trust that. I’m not entirely sure we are talking about the same initiatives, but since I’m working from memory again I’ll take your word for it.

    The issues are closely decided statewide and as a result, we can expect the pendulum to keep swinging back and forth with minor changes in public opinion.