Calling same-sex marriage a "very complicated issue" for himself, Sen. Roy Ashburn spoke on the floor today about legislation impacting the gay community for the first time since revealing his own sexual orientation in March.
The Bakersfield Republican's remarks, which he called "highly emotional," were made in reference to SB 906, a bill by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco. The measure clarifies that a clergy member is not required to perform civil marriages that clash with his or her own faith. Leno, who is openly gay, introduced the bill to address concerns in the religious community that members would be forced to perform same-sex marriages if they become legal in California once again.
"On a personal note, before I speak to the bill, I would not have been speaking on a measure dealing with sexual orientation ever, prior to the events that have transpired in my life over the last three months," Ashburn said. "However, I am no longer willing or able to remain silent on issues that affect sexual orientation, the rights of individuals and so I'm doing something that is quite different and foreign to me."
He said he strongly supports provisions in the bill aimed at "protecting the rights of those in the religious community against any repressions." But he said he could not vote for the bill because language includes "civil" to describe marriages covered under the measure.
"This proposal occurs on top of the vote of the people on Proposition 8 and on the litigation that ensued and that the very likely event that marriage will be back on the ballot," he said. "I think that creates a confusing, untenable situation that is not helpful on this whole issue."
Leno countered that the bill has "absolutely nothing (to do) with someone's sexual orientation" and that "civil" was included because the state has no authority to pass measures affecting religious marriages.
Leno said in a statement that the bill reaffirms separation of church and state and "simply affirms that California is a diverse state and that we can all co-exist and make space for each others' beliefs without compromising the beliefs of any religious group or individual."
The bill passed the Senate 23-11. Ashburn voted no.
Later in the session, Ashburn voted to support another measure asking the federal government to dump the "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays in the military.
Ashburn, who voted against a similar bill in the past, said the current policy is "clearly out of date and discriminatory."
"Being gay or straight has nothing to do with ability, devotion, courage, honor, skill and loyalty -- the characteristics that I think we would all agree are desirable and necessary for those who serve in our national military," he said. "My values say that government should be limited, that government has no business in the private lives of our citizens and that government should never ever be the sponsor of discrimination."
To lobby his Republican colleagues to vote for the bill, Ashburn borrowed from conservative Barry Goldwater to convince those "seeking comfort that Republicans should vote to end discrimination against lesbians and gays in the military."
"Lifting the ban on gays in the military isn't exactly nothing, but it's pretty damn close," he added.
The measure, SJR9 by Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, passed out of the Senate.
Susan Ferriss and Dan Smith contributed to this report.
PHOTO CREDIT: Sen. Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield, speaks during a Capital Public Radio forum on "Insight" on May 6, 2009. Sacramento Bee file photo / Anne Chadwick Williams.