Bills Adding Protections for Gays Divide Assembly in Calif.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - A recent run of bills intended to add more protections for gays and lesbians in California has sparked acrimonious debate in the state Assembly and exposed some of the social fissures that divide the two major parties.
Last week, lawmakers approved three bills that apply existing state programs to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender business owners, government workers and foster children. This week, they will weigh in on what may be the year’s signature piece of gay rights legislation, a bill that would prohibit "gay-to-straight" therapy for minors.
Republican lawmakers in the 80-member Assembly are not letting the reforms through quietly, prompting harsh reactions from some of their Democratic counterparts. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, called the Republicans’ objections "idiotic drivel."
"It’s just infuriating to see, particularly for young people, these very harmful attitudes," he said in a telephone interview. "I’m sick of it."
Tensions were on display Monday when Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, introduced a bill that would require the state to track the number of gay and lesbian business owners with which it contracts. California currently collects data on contractors’ race, ethnicity and gender.
Assemblyman Chris Norby, R-Fullerton, immediately raised his microphone to object to the collection of personal information, "whether it’s immutable characteristics, or those that may be mutable."
Such a bill would "inevitably lead to quotas," he said.
Assemblywoman Linda Halderman, R-Fresno, took up the thread, saying some people would "cheat the system" by lying about their sexual orientation, while others would feel exposed.
"There are people who choose to keep their sexuality private, and this looks like it would disadvantage them," she said.
Dickinson responded that the bill would not allow the state to favor gay-owned businesses. He said the check-off box is necessary to show the importance to the state’s economy of businesses owned by gays and lesbians.
After Halderman reaffirmed her concerns, Dickinson appeared to grow annoyed, shaking his head and gesturing with his hands.
"There’s no quotas, no path to quotas, no hint or suggestion or scintilla of anything to do with quotas in this legislation," he said.
Ammiano also was visibly upset, arching his eyebrows and speaking quickly.
"This is a group that has been invisible for a long time and contributes to the economy of California, and it’s time they took their rightful place. Stop this silly parsing," he said.
The bill passed on a party line vote, with Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, who recently left the Republican party and became independent as he runs for mayor of San Diego, joining the Democrats.