Recap of 2011 achievements for Gays equality

2011 Was a Good Year for Causes of Gays

Published: December 29, 2011

“We passed a ton of bills,” said Rebekah Orr, spokeswoman for Equality California, a group that lobbies for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. “There is an understanding that inequality is real, so it is relatively easy for a number of these bills to be passed.”

Twelve bills backed by Equality California were passed by the Legislature in 2011. Gov. Jerry Brown signed 10 and vetoed 2.

“There is a new realization that today family is defined differently than it was in the past, and our law needs to reflect that,” said Assemblyman Jerry Hill, a Democrat from San Mateo. His bill making it easier for nonbiological parents to win custody of their children becomes law on Sunday.

Mr. Hill’s bill, opposed by conservative groups and passed on a mostly party-line vote, was spurred in part by the experience of Kimberly Smith, a Santa Cruz woman who nearly lost custody of her twin sons to her former partner’s sperm donor because California family law in some cases prescribed an absolute preference to biological parents.

Conservative groups expressed frustration at the process. In contrast with previous legislative sessions, “bills sailed through without serious debate or reflection and the arguments raised by others were simply ignored,” said William B. May, president of Catholics for the Common Good, a San Francisco-based advocacy organization.

Larry Gerston, a professor of political science at San Jose State University, said the shift had occurred largely because of the tone set by Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat who took office in January 2011, and by Democrats, who control both houses of the State Legislature.

Mr. Brown “showed his hand even before he became governor when as attorney general he refused to defend Proposition 8,” Mr. Gerston said, referring to the 2008 state ballot initiative banning gay marriage.

Two other bills affecting public education will take effect Jan. 1. One, sponsored by Senator Mark Leno of San Francisco, will require lessons about gay men and lesbians to be integrated into social studies classes in California public schools.

The other, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco, mandates that all schools have clear policies against bullying. It was named Seth’s Law after Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old boy in Kern County who hanged himself in September 2010 after experiencing anti-gay harassment.

Conservative groups are responding by taking their case directly to the voters. In November, two organizations asked California’s secretary of state for permission to begin collecting signatures for a June ballot initiative to repeal Mr. Leno’s bill on social studies instruction. The measure could be added to the ballot for California’s presidential primary.

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