The Blog

It's Not Dead Yet . . .

A civil union bill in California is on hold. But while opponents of virtual gay marriage celebrate, its advocates are planning their next move.

11:01 PM, Jan 31, 2002 • By BETH HENARY
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A CALIFORNIA effort to enact a civil union law is on hold, but it's far from dead. In what his spokesman calls a "strategic" maneuver, state assemblyman Paul Koretz withdrew his bill--which would have established Vermont-style civil unions in the state--from consideration just days before the judiciary committee was scheduled to consider it.

Koretz, a Democrat from West Hollywood, introduced AB 1338 in February 2001. During the past year it came before the legislature only in the form of two informational meetings in the fall. Legislative rules allow Koretz until February 22 to return the bill to consideration for this session. Otherwise he must wait until 2003.

In a statement released on January 14, Koretz boasted, "We put civil union on the map in California and began the dialogue." He admitted, however, that it might be a "challenging, multi-year process for it to pass."

Scott Svonkin, Koretz's chief of staff, says there are political advantages to waiting for a year. A new assembly speaker, who co-authored the civil union bill, will be sworn in next week. And most important, 2003 is a non-election year.

"It takes a lot of courage to vote for something that is controversial," Svonkin said, adding that bringing the issue to the table will encourage both sides to demand that political leaders and candidates take a position on the issue.

Last October, Democratic governor Gray Davis signed AB 25, which granted state-registered domestic partners over a dozen benefits that traditionally come with marriage. In his challenge to Davis this year, former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan (a Republican) has said he is open to dialogue on civil unions.

The withdrawal of Koretz's bill brought cheers from civil union opponents, largely religious conservatives, who believe their protests--which included placing informational inserts in church bulletins and protesting at the offices of key legislators--led to the postponement.

Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute and an opponent of the bill, suggests that the postponement shows that the people of California are not comfortable with civil unions. He thinks Koretz's decision not to pursue the bill this session is a defeat, not a strategic withdrawal.

"If they thought they could get it passed, why did they have to switch gears?" Knight asked. "And if they feel it's safe to pass in a non-election year, that means they know the people aren't with them."

Knight believes the reason the civil union bill won't be reintroduced this session is that much of the barrage of citizen input was negative. He added that the coalition working against a civil union law--which includes Focus on the Family, the Campaign for California Families, and the Family Research Council as well as Concerned Women for America and several other groups--will continue to court moderate Democrats and socially conservative constituencies such as Hispanics.

Although it is off the table for now, Paul Koretz's bill has brought civil unions to the forefront of the political debate in California. And any legislation in favor of civil unions will likely be challenged in court because a recently passed citizen initiative, Proposition 22, defined marriage in California as a union between a man and a woman.

If Koretz's bill passes at some point and Proposition 22--which cannot be altered by the legislature--is not amended by the California citizenry, two highly visible statutes that could be perceived as contradictory will exist side by side.

Beth Henary is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.