I enjoy post-election recriminations as much as anybody, but I’m beginning to think the post-Prop 8 recriminations are getting out of hand. There’s plenty of blame to go around, but the latest target — Arnold Schwarzenegger — doesn’t deserve the criticism he’s currently getting.
Here’s the case against Arnold being made by No on 8 folks: Schwarzenegger is to blame for Prop 8 for failing to sign into law two bills legalizing same-sex marriages that were sent his way in 2005 and 2007. The argument is that Schwarzenegger set the stage for a ballot initiative by blocking legalization through the traditional process. Hans Johnson, a progressive political consultant, wrote recently in Huffington Post: “More than any other person, he remains responsible for putting marriage equality in jeopardy in California and leaving its future in the court’s hands. Having changed the state constitution, Prop 8 is now beyond both his reach and the legislature’s. For the time being, at least, it has foreclosed the very process that the governor stymied twice before.”
This is total bunk. First off, Johnson — and those aiming these attacks at Schwarzenegger — don’t understand how California or its initiative process works. The essential fact they’re missing is this: in California, a law adopted by initiative can only be changed by another vote of the people. California’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2000 came via initiative, Prop 22. Yes, laws were passed by the legislature to overturn Prop 22. But such laws, if they had been signed by Schwarzenegger, would not have overturned Prop 22. By definition, these laws were unconstitutional. You simply cannot change an initiative with a law that does not have a vote of the people.
Schwarzenegger’s vetoes were not only responsible — they were in the best interests of the cause of marriage equality. Gay rights groups were already working on a legal challenge to Prop 22– a challenge that would prove successful when the California Supreme Court struck down Prop 22. (That’s right — the courts can knock down an initiative, but the legislature can’t). If Schwarzenegger had signed those bills into law, he would have started another court fight that was a sure loser for the side of gay marriage. Such a court decision might even have made Prop 22 stronger and undermined the more successful legal challenge.
So not only is it pure fiction to argue that Schwarzenegger closed a door to same-sex marriage with his vetoes, the reverse is true. The Schwarzenegger vetoes did same-sex marriage supporters a favor. The governor’s veto messages were prescient. He said this was a matter that had to be decided by the people, the courts or both. He was, and is, right.
All that said, I would have liked to see Schwarzenegger more involved in the campaign against Prop 8 this fall. He spent his time campaigning for Prop 11, a redistricting initiative. He came out against Prop 8 but didn’t appear in advertisements against it. The governor is not popular with the public and not trusted by social conservatives. But in a close race, a strong gubernatorial effort against Prop 8 — in the same way that Ronald Reagan came out against Prop 6, the unsuccessful 1978 initiative that sought to bar gays from working in schools — might have made the difference.
But to blame Schwarzenegger for Prop 8 is dumb. The initiative would have happened, with or without him. It’s also past time for same-sex marriage supporters to knock off the circular firing squad routine and stop shooting at allies. This governor has been one. What is needed is planning and strategic thinking that convinces Schwarzenegger and other quiet supporters of marriage equality (paging President-elect Obama) to be more vocal.