Wilson Criticized by Both Sides After Gay-Rights Bill Veto : Reaction: Homosexual-rights activists call him a spineless politician. Opponents of the bill attack the governor’s overall record.
Orange County homosexual-rights activists Monday unleashed a torrent of condemnation on Gov. Pete Wilson after his veto of a gay-rights bill, depicting him as a spineless politician.
Surprisingly, however, fundamentalists who had passionately opposed the measure had only the faintest praise for the governor. They thanked him for his veto but attacked his overall record on tax and family issues.
Wilson’s Sunday veto of Assembly Bill 101, which would have extended protection from job discrimination to gays and lesbians, triggered spirited outpourings statewide Sunday, including an angry, traffic-stopping demonstration in West Hollywood.
People who had campaigned for adoption of the bill expressed deep disappointment and sadness Monday, along with a sense of betrayal that Wilson killed a measure that he had promised to support.
“There’s a sense in our community that we’ve been betrayed,” said Libby Cowan, co-chair of ECCO, a gay and lesbian political action committee. “He made clear overtures to us (during his campaign) that he’d sign a measure like this. We spent a lot of time and money on his campaign because we believed him. Now, he’s let us down.”
Jeff LeTourneau of the Orange County Visibility League said Wilson’s veto will herald a new day for gay politics. “He can forget about being elected to national office,” LeTourneau said. “This act will follow him everywhere.”
Gay activists said they will try to achieve the same workplace protections by qualifying a ballot initiative for consideration by California voters.
Anaheim attorney John J. Duran, co-chair of the Lobby for Individual Freedom and Equality, a key sponsor of the bill, said he believes that such an initiative would pass. He cited a poll scheduled for release today that he said will show that Californians supported AB 101 by a 2-to-1 margin.
Wilson’s veto also raises the broader question of whether his support on other issues can be counted on, Duran said.
“Wilson absolutely caved in to the far right of his own party and to the fundamentalists on gay rights,” Duran said. “What else, then? Abortion rights? The teaching of evolution? Sex education and AIDS education in public schools? What else will the right hold him hostage to?”
The Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, whose Traditional Values Coalition opposed AB 101, said he was happy Wilson vetoed the bill, but he withheld his full support for the governor.
“While we appreciate the veto and thank the governor, it must be said that the governor is not anti-tax and is not family-friendly and has not been rehabilitated to warrant reelection,” Sheldon said at an Anaheim news conference.
The Rev. Fred Plumer, who worked for an ordinance protecting gays from discrimination that was ultimately rejected in Irvine, said Wilson missed an important chance to establish a positive political tone in California.
“It was a real opportunity for our governor to make a statement that might have shown we have compassionate leadership,” said Plumer, pastor of the Irvine United Church of Christ. “Our world, our country, our state is craving more compassionate leadership.”
Representatives of both sides of the issue took exception to comments Wilson made in his veto message.
Sheldon, a nationally known anti-gay rights crusader, was outraged that Wilson said he regretted the “false comfort” his veto might bring to “a tiny minority of mean-spirited, gay-bashing bigots.”
Sheldon called it an insult to the thousands of voters, religious leaders and Republican officials who worked to defeat the measure, and he demanded an apology.
“He has crossed the line . . . like the emperor with no clothes on and he doesn’t want to see the reality of the situation; he is naked of principles and common sense,” Sheldon said.
Melvin Trickey, co-president of the Orange County chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, said he disagreed with Wilson’s contention that the measure might spark unnecessary lawsuits.
“The message that will be sent to the gay community is, ‘Well, OK, let’s go to court, then. They say we already have protection. Let’s just see about that,’ ” said Trickey, the father of a gay son and lesbian daughter.
Santa Ana attorney Georgia Garrett-Norris scoffed at the notion that sufficient workplace protections already exist for gays and lesbians.
“I get three calls a week from people who have just lost their jobs because of their sexual orientation,” she said.
In the face of such discrimination, Wilson’s veto is an affront to the gay community, she said.
“Yesterday I was screaming. Today I’m crying,” she said. “It appears it’s absolutely OK to discriminate against us no matter what.”
ANGRY WORDS: Gay supporters statewide call the governor “a liar” who betrayed a cause he vowed to support. A3