Building a Just Society : With a flurry of signatures, Wilson helps the cause against discrimination

Declaring flatly that "discrimination has no place in a just society," Pete Wilson on Friday signed AB 2601, protecting gays and lesbians against job bias. Earlier this week he signed eight other bills against other forms of discrimination. It was the right thing for the governor to do.

Wilson's move on the homosexual rights legislation ended weeks of speculation about his position on the bill, which was similar to one he vetoed last September. His action is in marked and welcome contrast to the actions of some fellow Republicans, who at the GOP National Convention in Houston last month engaged in only thinly veiled gay-bashing. Indeed, religious fundamentalists have condemned the bill signed Friday as encouraging the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and homosexuality.

That's ridiculous. This new law, authored by Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Encino), does what five other states already do and what all just societies must do: ban workplace discrimination based on sexual preference.

Bias against gays and lesbians is no more tolerable than bias against minorities or against women or against people because of their religious beliefs. What should matter on the job is job performance. Period.

Wilson's veto of last year's bill, also carried by Friedman, triggered several angry demonstrations around the state and quieter criticism by a broad spectrum of Californians. So much criticism, in fact, that the governor endorsed a court decision issued shortly after his veto that interpreted existing state law as barring sexual-orientation bias on the job. The Friedman bill, effective Jan. 1, permanently and explicitly outlaws such discrimination.

Also illegal, as a result of Wilson's signing of the other bills, is discrimination against pregnant workers, the disabled, victims of sexual harassment and individuals carrying the AIDS virus.

Friedman could well have been speaking of all nine bills when, on learning that Wilson had signed AB 2601, he said, "Now that all Californians enjoy equal opportunity to have a job, it is time to turn our full attention to creating jobs and putting all Californians back to work." We agree.

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