Exercising authority that had not been used in 21 years, Democratic Lt. Gov. Gray Davis cast a rare tie-breaking vote in the state Senate on Monday to keep a domestic partners amendment in an anti-gay marriage bill.
Davis, president of the Senate, usually appears only on ceremonial occasions. But he arrived in the chamber to cast the 21st vote after the measure snagged on a bipartisan 20-20 vote.
The bill (AB 1982) would deny recognition by California of gay and lesbian marriages performed out of state and create a new registry of domestic partnerships in the secretary of state's office.
"I've always opposed same sex marriages. I've always supported domestic partnerships," Davis, a potential candidate for governor in 1998, told the Senate. He later told reporters, "I frankly think that this bill is a wedge issue designed to divide people."
A final Senate vote on the bill is expected within the next few days. Gov. Pete Wilson has warned that he will veto the bill if it contains the domestic partners provision.
A similar bill by state Sen. Raymond Haynes (R-Riverside) that would outlaw homosexual marriages is pending in the Assembly and may be acted upon today.
The last time a lieutenant governor cast a tie-breaking vote was 1975, when Democrat Mervyn Dymally voted in favor of a bill making it legal for consenting adults in private to engage in a variety of previously outlawed sexual acts.
Monday's vote was over a hostile amendment that was added to the bill by Democrats in the Senate Judiciary Committee. It would create a new civil registry of domestic partners who would be eligible for certain benefits enjoyed by married men and women.
These include family hospital visits, eligibility for certain inheritances and participation in an employed partner's health insurance plan, if the employer agreed.
Republicans attacked the domestic partners amendment as an election year political cover designed to enable Democrats to tell voters that they oppose homosexual marriages while supporting domestic unions of gays, lesbians and unmarried heterosexuals.
During an emotional floor fight, Sen. Richard Mountjoy (R-Arcadia) told the Senate that 15 other states have taken action to outlaw same gender marriages because "they know that this is going to be the moral decay . . . of the people of this country."
Senate leader Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward) said creating a civil system that falls short of marriage but recognized domestic partners is important for "stable relationships."