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Calif. Governor OKs Harvey Milk Day, Marriage Bill
Sacramento - Capping a remarkable year for slain San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill to create a state day of recognition for Milk, making him only the second Californian, after naturalist John Muir, to receive the honor.
The governor signed the measure late Sunday along with new laws to help gay and lesbian people in the state, including a measure giving same-sex couples legally married in other states all the rights of marriage in California.
While the governor vetoed the bill honoring Milk last year, President Obama's awarding Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom and an Academy Award-winning film about Milk's life moved Schwarzenegger to sign the bill, spokesman Aaron McLear said.
"The bill is symbolic of the importance of the gay community to California, which is why he signed it," McLear said, adding that Schwarzenegger wanted to "honor that community." It is the only such day of recognition for a gay or lesbian person in the United States.
The measure was among 478 bills signed by Schwarzenegger on Sunday, the deadline for him to act on legislation passed by the Legislature before its session ended Sept. 11. The governor vetoed 229 bills.
Milk, one of the first openly gay people elected in the United States, and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were shot and killed by Dan White, a former supervisor, at City Hall on Nov. 29, 1978.
The measure mandates that the governor proclaim each May 22 as Harvey Milk Day in the state, to coincide with Milk's birthday. It will not be a state holiday. The bill signed by Schwarzenegger encourages public schools in the state to conduct lessons "remembering the life of Harvey Milk, recognizing his accomplishments and familiarizing pupils with the contributions he made to this state."
Formal recognition of Milk and the action on out-of-state same-sex marriage add to Schwarzenegger's legacy of having approved more legislation expanding gay rights than any other governor in state or national history, despite his vetoes of bills to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.
In August, Schwarzenegger accepted the nomination of Milk to the California Hall of Fame, to which he will be inducted in December.
Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who authored the legislation declaring a day honoring Milk, praised the governor for his action, saying it was an idea "whose time had come."
"This will go a long way to better inform Californians as to the nature of the civil rights struggle in the LGBT community," Leno said.
The measure was backed by Equality California, the largest gay-rights organization in the state. Geoff Kors, executive director of the group, said it would develop curriculum for schools and teachers to use on Milk's birthday.
Schwarzenegger's staff said the office heard from tens of thousands of people, for and against the bill.
The Campaign for Children and Families, which opposed the law, called it "the strongest impetus yet for loving parents to remove their children from anti-family public schools."
In addition to the Milk bill, Schwarzenegger signed another Leno bill affecting same-sex couples legally married outside of California.
The measure ensures that couples who wed before the passage of Proposition 8 in November retain their status as "married," while those who wed after the measure passed will retain all rights of marriage save the name. That means married couples who move to California will not have to register as domestic partners to have their relationships recognized by the state.
The governor also signed a bill that will expand funding for domestic violence programs targeting the gay and lesbian communities. He vetoed a measure to direct the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to consider sexual orientation and gender identity in the housing of inmates, which the governor said occurs already.
Schwarzenegger vetoed a measure allowing transgender people who have left the state to request a new birth certificate reflecting their change in gender. He said a recent court ruling made that legal, making a law unnecessary.