In a move that surprised Sacramento insiders, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed two gay rights bills: one honoring slain San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, and the other granting full recognition to same-sex couples married in other states. Both bills were introduced initially by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco).

The governor had until midnight on Sunday, October 11-National Coming Out Day, ironically enough-to sign these two bills, among more than 200 others. Harvey Milk Day will be celebrated every May 22, Milk’s birthday, as a “day of special significance” but not a state holiday. It marks the first time in the country that an openly gay person has been recognized officially by a state’s government.

In a press release, Equality California’s Executive Director Geoff Kors said, “Californians will now learn about Harvey’s amazing contributions to the advancement of civil rights for decades to come. He is a role model to millions, and this legislation will help ensure his legacy lives on forever.”

Schwarzenegger vetoed similar legislation on September 30, 2008, explaining that Milk was a San Francisco icon and should be celebrated on a community level. In the intervening months, however, Milk, the biopic, won two Academy Awards, thus elevating awareness of the politician. In its wake, President Barack Obama bestowed upon Milk a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the country; and Milk was one of 13 people inducted by Schwarzenegger into California’s Hall of Fame.

The other bill, now known as the Marriage Recognition and Family Protection Act, recognizes that couples who wed prior to the passage of Proposition 8 are entitled to the full legal protections granted to married spouses. It also recognizes marriages performed in other states. Schwarzenegger added a note to this bill, explaining, among other things, that it “requires that California recognize the union of couples that marry in states where same-sex marriage is legal. As required by Proposition 8, California will not recognize such couples as ‘married.’ However, [it] will provide the same legal protections that would otherwise be available to couples that enter into civil unions or domestic partnerships out-of-state. In short,” it concluded, “this measure honors the will of the people in enacting Proposition 8 while providing important protections to those unions legally entered into in other states.”


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