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Mark My Word
(click for bio & past articles)

AB 19 - Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act


Dear Betty's List Friends,

I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak with you about my initiatives in Sacramento and the current activities within state government. 

We are extremely pleased that our hopeful expectations have been met by Judge Kramer in ruling in favor of marriage equality.  The San Francisco Superior Court joins three State Supreme Courts which have also ruled that there is no constitutional basis for denying marriage licenses to loving and committed same sex couples.  It is my hope that the state legislature and the Governor will recognize what courts in California and across the country already have - that there is no rational basis for treating law abiding, taxpaying Americans who live, work, and raise families just like everyone else as second class citizens.  It's important that we move forward legislation so that our critics cannot say this is just the work of 'activist judges'.

And so, as you probably are aware, I introduced the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act (AB 19) at our own Glide Memorial United Methodist Church that will allow the State of California to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.  This legislation is similar to the measure I introduced last year, and will amend the state Family Code to define a marriage as a civil contract between two persons, instead of a civil contract between a man and a woman. Additionally, the bill will add section 403 to the code, reaffirming in statute that religious institutions are free to exercise their religion without interference from the state and will not be forced to perform ceremonies not in keeping with their beliefs.

America was founded on the concept of separation of church and state, with the guarantee that religious freedom will be respected and the state will treat all people equally in the eyes of the law.  At long last, this bill puts that fundamental right into practice - allowing loving, committed same-sex couples who want to devote their lives to one another, raise families, and protect themselves and their children the same rights and responsibilities as different-sex couples with the same goals and dreams.
 
I am happy to report that I am joined by 30 of my fellow Assemblymembers and Senators as co-authors of the bill, including Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez as a joint author.  The bill is also sponsored by Equality California (EQCA), the statewide LGBT civil rights advocacy organization.  Presently, California couples may register with the State of California as domestic partners, but this does not, however, grant all of the rights of marriage under state law, nor does it make couples and their children eligible for over a thousand federal protections offered to married couples and their children.

Fighting for marriage equality in these times of a second-term for Bush and national right-wing Republican dominance is not a simple task and not taken lightly.  Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of homophobia to say "wait."  But then we must look at the cost in human terms:

  • According to a DHHS study, LGBT suicides represent 30% of all youth suicides
  • The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association reports that lesbian and gay men are among the most frequent victims of hate violence in the U.S. 
  • 91% of California students report hearing their peers use slurs about sexual orientation, and 40% reported hearing teachers making such negative comments
  • Substance abuse affects lesbians and gay men at 2-3 times the rate of the general population, according to Project Connect
  • The Pride Institute estimates that one in three gay men and lesbians, over 8 million total, struggle daily with chemical dependency
  • Over half of all new HIV infections in this country are among those under 25 years of age, and disproportionately among LGBT young adults

Then we come to understand why it is difficult to wait.

If we put off our fight for LGBT people's right to live together, form families, and participate in society as first class citizens, it will make it that much more difficult to address these fundamental issues of self esteem and offer a vision of the future that inspires gay people to lead productive, full, healthy lives. We cannot forget that we are San Francisco and we are California, and people look to us to lead the way. If we abandon our effort to stand up and make the case that we are equal, how can we ever expect the LGBT activists in red states to do the same? 

We desperately need more leaders like Gavin Newsom, Nancy Pelosi, Phil Angelides, Steve Westly, John Garamendi, Fabian Nunez and Ted Kennedy who understand that civil rights and full citizenship, including marriage equality, for all Americans are core moral values of our great democracy. We need to articulate these moral values proudly, loudly and repeatedly. We have an obligation to reach out to our friends who are struggling with these issues because the fight is difficult. And we must fight back those who would limit life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to only a chosen group.

As long as the love of same sex couples and their families are denied equal status and protection under the law, a destructive stereotype is perpetuated which suggests that there is something inherently inferior and unstable about the way we love. That is our common humanity. There is nothing that all of us walking this planet have more in common, regardless of our race, religion, creed, nation of origin, the language that we speak, than our ability to love - and our desire to love another human being in an intimate and committed fashion. That is the one thing we all share.

Until we demand that our elected leaders proclaim and fight for our common humanity, expect to see more hate violence, more substance abuse, more suicides and more HIV sero-conversions. These are the facts. Let's not turn away from them. 

In 1948, the California Supreme Court became the first state court in the country to strike down a law prohibiting interracial marriage before the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated all such laws in 1967. The California Supreme Court held that "marriage is . . . something more than a civil contract subject to regulation by the state; it is a fundamental right of free men...legislation infringing such rights must be based upon more than prejudice and must be free from oppressive discrimination to comply with the constitutional requirements of due process and equal protection of the laws."

As with interracial marriage, it is only a matter of time until Americans realize that two people who love one another and wish to spend their lives together are not a threat, but rather a positive, stabilizing force not only for them, but for society as a whole.  I am proud to carry on this fight for marriage equality and to put forward this bill that will end California's endorsement of second-class citizenship for its LGBT citizens.

I look forward to sharing more thoughts about our work in Sacramento.  I would like to thank Betty for her dedication and support for the community, and for this opportunity to present a regular column.  If you should you have questions or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at any time through my District Office at 415-557-3013 or keep updated on the web by visiting www.markleno.com.
 
Yours,
 
Mark Leno
Assemblyman, 13th District

Bio & Past Articles

Past Articles

Betty's List 'Mark My Word'
Columnist Assemblyman Mark Leno

Assemblyman Mark Leno made history in November 2002 when he was elected as one of the first openly gay men to the California State Assembly, representing District 13, the eastern portion of San Francisco. He currently serves as Chair of the Public Safety Committee, one of only four freshman legislators appointed to Chair a policy committee in their first year. He also serves on the Appropriations, Local Government, and Revenue & Taxation Committees and is the Chair of Select Committees on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender (LBGT) Families and Childhood Obesity & Related Diabetes.

A native of Wisconsin, Leno attended the University of Colorado at Boulder, then went on to become valedictorian of his graduating class at the American College of Jerusalem, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts Degree. Leno also spent two years in Rabbinical Studies at Hebrew Union College in New York.

Prior to his election to the State Assembly, Assemblyman Leno served as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors from April 1998 to December 2002. He authored landmark legislation in the areas of affordable housing, universal health care for children, solar energy, late night entertainment, bond oversight, small business services, City CarShare, medical cannabis, equal access to services, and LGBT civil rights.

Leno is the owner of Budget Signs, Inc., a small business he founded in 1978 and operated with his life partner, Douglas Jackson. Together the two entrepreneurs steadily grew their sign business until Jackson passed away from complications relating to AIDS/HIV in 1990. This deep loss would not deter Leno. Instead, he redoubled his efforts in community service.

He has served on the boards of many local and national organizations including the LGBT Community Center Project, Haight Ashbury Community Services, the American Jewish Congress, Mobilization Against AIDS, and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. He is the recipient of the 1995 Small Business Owner of the Year Award from the Small Business Network, the 1995 Hormel Community Service Award from the Human Rights Campaign and the James R. Sylla Award from the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

Outside of his capacity as an elected official, Leno has been a tireless supporter of nonprofit organizations in San Francisco, frequently appearing to show support at events and lending a hand wherever possible. He was a statewide spokesman for the No on Prop 22 Campaign (the Knight Initiative) and was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles in August 2000.