(If you have "flash" and want a faster connection, you might prefer to watch this on YouTube.)
QUILTS FOR KATRINA
7 September 2005 - A
Since I had today's entry written already, I was going to wait till tomorrow, but I can't. I have just gone through the most incredible emotional roller coaster.
I had a note from Shelly two days ago that the Gay Marriage Bill, AB 849, would be coming up for a vote today, and did I want to go "watch history being made." The bill had already passed the Senate and was expected to pass the Assembly. If it did, this would be the first time that such a bill has passed both houses of any state.
There was the usual assortment of protesters in front of the capitol, with their Marriage = 1 man + 1 woman, and their Jesus signs. Some in our group went to join them.
We all filed into the building, past several metal detectors. When you get upstairs to the Assembly gallery, you are met with this sign--
--which lists all the no-no's: No cameras; no food or drink; no hats; no firearms or knives; no talking; no cell phones or pagers; no video cameras; no gameboy or video games. I actually knew I wouldn't be able to take photos inside (which is too bad, giving that I spent most of the day inside!)
They called the session to order, said the pledge of allegiance, listened to a prayer, started voting on the 150-odd bills they were going to try to vote on, and then called for a caucus, which meant that everybody left the room for a while.
AB 849 was #16 on the list, but when they got to #15, Assemblyman Mark Leno (author of the bill) could see he didn't have enough votes on the floor (lots of empty chairs), so he passed on its reading at that time. This meant that it would now be at least 2 p.m. before the bill was read, so we all got up to leave.
That was probably the most dramatic moment of the day. We had filled the entire gallery and even though we left in a quiet and orderly fashion, our departure made a definite impact.
Ellen, Shelly and I went to the office of Assemblymember Gloria Negrete McLeod, who has a gay child and who had abstained on the bill the last time it came up to vote. Ellen and Shelly spoke with her clerk (while I stood by silently)
We went outside and ran into a group from Nevada City who had brought tons of food for lunch, so they invited us to share their food, which was a godsend. They were great people, and there was one couple who had been together longer than Ellen and Shelly--they just celebrated their 34th anniversary.
Back into chambers for the start of the afternoon session. They gaveled the session into order and the very first thing they did was to leave for a caucus. We were supposed to return in 2 hours, so we wandered the capitol grounds.
Ellen, who hadn't had much sleep, lay down on the grass and went to sleep while Shelly and I sat on a bench and talked while watching the squirrels scamper around.
Finally it was time to go back into chambers yet again. Things were starting to move now. But they still had a ton of bills to get through before AB849 came up for a vote. I learned that some children in California ride to school on buses that were built in 1977. They voted to upgrade the buses. I also learned that child molesters in this state receive a sentence of 7-17 years unless they are members of the victim's family, in which case they receive counseling and an expunged record. The Assembly voted to change that law.
Mark Leno was pacing around the Assembly floor the whole time, having his photo taken, talking and laughing with people, and at one point flashing Ellen and Shelly a thumbs up, when he caught their eye. Things were looking very promising.
Finally, finally, finally it was time to discuss AB 849. Leno discussed his bill and then debate went on for an hour and a half. There was dead silence in the gallery and we were all leaning forward to listen to the debate.
There were some speeches in favor of the bill which were so eloquent they brought me to tears, and some against that made my blood boil. Assemblymember McLeod, whom we had lobbied earlier, gave an emotional speech in which she apologized for abstaining last time ("If I hadn't, we might not be here discussing this today"). She asked everyone to join her in support of the bill. Shelly and Ellen gasped.
For the bill to pass, it had to recieve one more than half the membership of the assembly, or 41 votes.
When the voting started, we held our breaths and watched the numbers climb. They got to 40 yes and 35 no and stopped. You could hear everyone hardly daring to breath. Ellen and Shelly had this look of shocked disbelief. The bill had lost by one vote last time and it looked like it was going to be a repeat of last time, after all the hope, after all the work, after all the prayers. It was going to lose. Yet again.
And then there it was. The one vote that was needed. Assemblymember Simon Salinas cast the deciding vote. The gallery (which is supposed to be silent) erupted in cheers and applause.
Assemblymember Mountjoy, vehemently opposed, demanded that the body be given a chance to change their votes. But the votes stood and the bill was declared passed, making California the first state in the union where both houses have passed the bill.
This is the woman who lobbied Senator Salinas' office. She holds in her hand the photo of her deceased partner, who died of cancer because the surviving partner was not able to legally make medical decisions for her. She had spoken with Salinas before the bill came up for a vote the last time and he promised to vote for it--and then didn't. She went to his office today and had his clerk in tears with her story. When Salinas cast his vote for the bill, it was a triumphant moment for her--and for her deceased partner.
There was such an air of jubilation in the halls that you can't even begin to imagine it. These are people who have worked for years to get to this point, who have been disappointed over and over again. They were so happy when they were able to get married legally in San Francisco and lined up for blocks in the rain, for hours, in order to be married, only to have those rights yanked away from them six months later. Now once again, that carrot is dangling in front of them.
When it was all over, we waited in the rotunda for Mark Leno to emerge. There were reporters everywhere, interviewing anybody they could find to interview. Finally Leno and the other members of the gay caucus came out, to much applause. Leno thanked everyone for their work and pointed out that there is still a lot of work to be done.
Nobody knows what will happen now, as the bill now goes to Schwartzenegger's desk...some think he will veto it; others think that he is in such political trouble now that he might not want to risk alienating the entire gay population of California.
So now we wait...
PHOTO OF THE DAY
...But nothing was dampening the jubilation