In a close vote in which conservative Democrats allied themselves with the Republicans Right, Assembly Bill 19, the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, authored by Assemblymember Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) Assembly Speaker Fabian NÃºñez (D-Los Angeles), and 30 co-authors fell short by just four votes on June 2nd.
Key to the defeat of this landmark civil rights bill was the votes of three Central Valley Democrats: Juan Arambula of Fresno, Nicole Para of Hanford, and Barbara Matthews of Tracy. Arambula spoke to the press following the vote and explained that he voted against equal protection of the law for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community for “religious reasons”
Tearing down the walls of separation between church and state has long been the clarion call of the religious right. Now, it seems that anti-gay religious fundamentalism it is spilling over into the legislative venue of Democratic politics.
But, Arambula and Para are clearly running against the tide. The California Democratic Party and the Fresno County Democratic Central Committee had unanimously endorsed AB 19 and thousands of their constituents had written, phoned, faxed and e-mailed them and urged them to support equal protection of the law for everyone.
Only days after this historic defeat for civil equality, the Central California GLBT community celebrated the fourteenth annual Pride Day in the Fresno’s Tower district. However, many of us were in no mood to celebrate anything except our commitment to continue the struggle for full civil equality for all.
When I marched with the Fresno Stonewall Democrats contingent in the parade I carried a sign that said “Robin McGehee for Assembly.” and the crowd roared their approval. Most know and deeply respect Robin and her long commitment to the struggle for full equality through Equality California and her Love Welcomes All Conferences. But I did not stop there. I made sign-up sheets available at the Equality California and Stonewall booths. Without even trying, we quickly registered over a hundred people to volunteer to work for her campaign should she decide to run.
Equality California believes that Central California is over ripe for organizing for equal rights. To this end they are committed to backing a “Power Summit” to be held on the Weekend of July 16th and 17th. They will bring in activist organizers from across the nation to Fresno to inspire and educate the local activist base.
I once heard Assembly Member Jackie Goldberg comment that the one thing an incumbent fears the most is a primary election challenge. This is especially true in California where the districts are stacked to favor either the Democrats or the Republicans. This is undoubtedly why legislators like Para and Arambula can vote against the Democratic position without fear of being held accountable to their Democratic base.
Odds always favor an incumbent because they often accumulate a huge war chest of donations from the special interests—especially business interests. But Arambula may yet rue the day he decided to foist his sectarian beliefs off on his constituents and deny them the justice of equal protection and human dignity that all human beings deserve regardless of the gender of their partner.