Gov. Pete Wilson on Friday raised questions about the impact on business of a bill to ban job discrimination against homosexuals, but said he remains undecided whether to sign or veto the legislation.
“I haven’t given anybody a signal either way,” the governor said after an hourlong meeting in the Capitol with the bill’s author, Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Los Angles).
“What I have said is that I would listen to all arguments and weigh them and then make up my mind,” Wilson told reporters as he toured livestock exhibitions at the State Fair.
The Republican governor’s decision is expected to be among the most closely watched of his first year in office, especially by conservatives in his own party who have urged Wilson to veto the legislation, as did his predecessor, Gov. George Deukmejian. The measure has passed the Assembly and is pending in the Senate.
Wilson last spring appeared sympathetic to the bill when he indicated to editorial page editors from around the state that he was “very likely” to sign the measure. But in recent weeks, the bill, strongly opposed by the religious right, seems to have been losing ground among Republicans.
In a bid to win support from Wilson and Republican senators, Friedman on Monday removed a provision from the bill that would have banned discrimination in housing because of sexual orientation.
Current law already bans discrimination based on race, religion, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical handicap, medical condition, marital statutes, sex or age. As drawn, the bill would add sexual orientation in instances of employment discrimination.
Supporters maintain that gays and lesbians should have the same protection as the other groups and cite instances in which workers have lost their jobs because of their sexual orientation. But opponents have argued that the bill would hurt small-business owners who would have to fight discrimination complaints in courts.
Wilson said he, too, has concerns that the bill could trigger a “flood of litigation” involving employers and acknowledged that much of his discussion with Friedman centered on whether the proposal would hurt the state’s business climate.
The governor also said he is “concerned with the extent to which there is a need for the bill.”
Friedman described his meeting with Wilson as amicable and said the governor raised a number of questions, especially about the impact of the legislation on the business community. He said he assured the governor that recent amendments preclude quotas forcing businesses to hire gays and lesbians and do not establish affirmative-action policies.
Friedman reported that he cited those changes in the bill to the governor, saying “from the outset it was my goal to ensure that we achieve an anti-discrimination law that is not burdensome to business.”