California: Marriage Melees and a Mea Culpa

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California: Marriage Melees and a Mea Culpa

With the historical overturn of Proposition 8 earlier this month and its path toward the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals —  as well as the potential for a Supreme Court appearance – many California politicians have jumped on the gay bandwagon, issuing statements and making grand pronouncements about the injustice of the in-limbo law.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, free of re-election prospects, said of the measure: “This decision affirms the full legal protections and safeguards I believe everyone deserves. At the same time, it provides an opportunity for all Californians to consider… our growing reputation of treating all people and their relationships with equal respect and dignity.” California Attorney General Jerry Brown, who is running for Schwarzenegger’s seat, added, “In striking down Proposition 8, Judge Walker came to the same conclusion I did. Proposition 8 violates the equal protection guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution by taking away the right of same-sex couples to marry, without a sufficient governmental interest.”

But perhaps the California politician who potentially said the most on the repeal of Proposition 8, without specifically referring to it – or his past support of measures like it – was State Senator Roy Ashburn, the legislator outed in March after police arrested him for drunk driving following a night at a Sacramento gay club. On July 19, just two weeks before U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker’s ruling that overturned Proposition 8 (the California Marriage Protection Act), the Constitutional amendment that restricted marriage to opposite-sex couples, Ashburn, a Republican from Bakersfield, wrote a formal apology on “for the votes I cast and the actions I took that harmed lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.” He added, “Just as important to me, I am sorry for not stepping forward and speaking up as an elected official on behalf of equal treatment for all people.”

Whether you’re a cynical gay or a believer in true redemption, Ashburn’s actions of the past and his recent mea culpa will confound you. It certainly left gay radio personality and former activist, Michelangelo Signorile, confused about how far the outed state senator had come. Signorile initially said Ashburn had “come far, but he had a ways to go.” Then, after interviewing Ashburn for “The Gist,” his Sirius Satellite radio show, Signorile wasn’t sure “he’s come far at all.

“Perhaps he can do some good in the future, trying to change minds in the Republican Party, as he says he desires to do,” Signorile told the Advocate magazine. “But he first needs to dig deep and think further about these issues."

The outgoing Ashburn, who is serving his last term, seems to desire to enact something – anything – to right his wrongs and change his rep with his gay and lesbian constituents. “Now, from what I have lived and learned, I want to do the best that I can to advance equality and freedom for all people,” Ashburn wrote. “Given the shame and confusion that many feel over their sexual orientation, perhaps my situation can serve as an example of both the harm that can come from denial and fear, and the opportunity to try to make things right.”

So far, Ashburn has remained mum on the repeal of Proposition 8 – and the stay Walker issued on same-sex marriages until the decision reaches the Appeals court – even after he stated “I am no longer willing, nor able to remain silent in the face of unequal and hurtful treatment of my community.” As Ashburn admits, it may have taken him a “strange, incoherent and long path to get here, but this is where I find myself as a gay Republican Senator.” Now it’s time for Ashburn to put his money where his mouth is and speak up for his gay brethren. Confessions – even revolutionary ones – only get politicians so far.