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California Senate Takes Action on Pro-Gay Measures

By L.K. Regan

Proposition 8 may have been approved by California voters, but the state's officials have taken the highly unusual route of refusing to defend it in court. Now, the California Senate has gone on the pro-gay-rights attack by passing two new measures. One reverses a 60-year-old law that instituted anti-gay bigotry in state agencies; the other demands the reversal of a modern example of state discrimination—the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

In 1950, California passed a law classifying gays as sexual deviants, and requiring the Department of Mental Health to therefore research causes of and cures for this "deviant" behavior. This week, the California Senate reversed that law in a unanimous 36-0 vote conducted without debate. In an odd twist of history, the bill was carried by Sen. Roy Ashburn, a Republican who came out earlier this year after receiving a DUI citation while on his way home from a gay bar (and driving a state-owned vehicle).

The original 1950 law was passed in response to the murder of a six-year-old Los Angeles girl by a pedophile. The law read: "The State Department of Mental Health shall plan, conduct and cause to be conducted scientific research into the causes and cures of sexual deviation, including deviations conductive to sex crimes against children and the causes and cures of homosexuality." As Democrat Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, who introduced the bill in the Assembly in April then told Pink News: “It was ludicrous then, it’s ludicrous now, it’s time to get rid of it permanently.” As she pointed out, "Even then, there was no legal justification to say that gay people needed to be understood and cured in the exact same way as sexual predators who rape and kill children. For us to leave it there would be wrong.” And, as she told the AP, "Sixty years is more than long enough.”

In a related vote, the state Senate voted 22-12 this week in favor of a resolution urging the President and Congress to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Since 1996, DOMA has prevented the federal government from treating as marriage anything other than the union between a man and a woman. It has had a devastating impact on gay couples by preventing them from claiming a host of rights, from joint tax filing to health benefits to social security. Last August ?? the California Assembly passed a measure demanding DOMA's repeal. Now, the Senate has followed suit.

Surely this will have no material impact on federal policy—but it is a welcome sign that the California state government is distancing itself from Prop. 8.