Governor Addresses Gays in L.A.
In his first appearance before a gay rights group, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday acknowledged that he would continue to disagree with activists on critical issues but pledged to respect them and foster a spirit of “respect, equality and inclusion” in California.
“Whether you are gay or straight, everyone needs someone to love,” he told the crowd in Hollywood. “While we may not agree on every issue, we are united in the values of love, understanding and tolerance.”
The title of the fundraiser was “The courage to lead -- an evening with the governor” -- even though Schwarzenegger opposed the group, the Log Cabin Republicans, on the issue of same-sex marriage. The group supports it; he vetoed a bill last year that would have legalized it in California.
Lighthearted and joking at the event, the governor was clearly comfortable with the crowd. He started off by saying: “I love the Log Cabin Republicans. I love this organization. I love all of you.”
Schwarzenegger, who did not mention gay marriage, said he was “proud to be on the same team as all of you.”
Schwarzenegger has signed bills adding rights for domestic partners, strengthening hate-crimes statutes protecting gays and lesbians, as well as other antidiscrimination statutes. But he has said people should respect the will of voters, who approved Proposition 22 in 2000, defining marriage as being between a man and a woman.
The governor actually spends more time during the week with two gay people -- his chief of staff and his personal assistant -- than with his wife, Maria Shriver. Her chief of staff, Daniel Zingale, also is gay. A former political director of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group, Zingale also is a close advisor to the governor.
In the 1970s, when his physique was considered the height of perfection for a bodybuilder, Schwarzenegger appeared nude in a gay magazine and posed for photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, known for his controversial depictions of nudes.
Schwarzenegger told Oui magazine in 1977: “Recently I posed for a gay magazine, which caused much comment. But it doesn’t bother me. Gay people are fighting the same stereotyping that bodybuilders are: People have certain misconceptions about them just as they do about us.”
Since he entered politics, the issue of gay marriage has prompted Schwarzenegger to make some verbal missteps. He told Fox News in 2003: “Gay marriage is something that should be between a man and a woman.”
And after San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom started issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, Schwarzenegger predicted: “All of a sudden, we see riots, we see protests, we see people clashing. The next thing we know, there is injured or there is dead people.” Nothing violent occurred.
The speech Thursday came as the Republican governor attempted to burnish his politically moderate credentials leading up to his reelection campaign. But even with the marriage veto, Schwarzenegger is “slightly ahead of the curve” on gay rights issues compared with other politicians, including some Democratic governors, said Patrick Guerriero, national president of the Log Cabin Republicans.
“He has been very clear,” Guerriero said. “But it doesn’t mean we agree with him on everything.”
During the evening, Schwarzenegger -- accompanied by Shriver -- received the Log Cabin’s Ronald Reagan Award, named for the former president and California governor who helped defeat a 1978 initiative that would have banned openly gay public school teachers.
Invoking Reagan, Schwarzenegger told the crowd: “Today we need a higher level of understanding, not lower. We need a sense of tolerance that is stronger, not weaker. I pledge to you that I will continue to promote these values as your governor, as your fellow Republican, and as your friend.”
The audience of about 350 people, who dined on grilled chicken and baby greens salad, couldn’t have looked more conservative: a sea of men, and some women, in blue suits. There were business owners, teachers, publicists and other professionals.
“I think it did take courage to come here, and it speaks to his willingness to work with everyone,” said Ken Weddle, 30, a telecommunications worker from Sacramento and a Log Cabin member who brought his mother to the event. Weddle said he liked that Schwarzenegger avoids being “overly socially conservative. I think a true conservative gets out of the bedroom.”
The event at the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood garnered more than $100,000 for Log Cabin Republicans, a rare case of Schwarzenegger helping to raise money for something other than his own campaign. Large donors took photographs with the governor at a private reception before the event, which also honored Marc Cherry, the creator and executive producer of “Desperate Housewives.”
When Schwarzenegger took the stand, the crowd chanted: “Four more years, four more years!”
Schwarzenegger told the group, which endorsed him in the 2003 recall election, “I can’t promise we will always be of the same mind, but I can promise you I will always have an open mind.”
Most mainstream gay rights groups in California are expected to endorse state Treasurer Phil Angelides for governor. One, Equality California, said endorsing Schwarzenegger would violate its policy because one of its platforms is same-sex marriage.
Angelides has been unequivocal: If elected governor, he would not hesitate to sign a bill legalizing marriage between same-sex couples.
When Schwarzenegger vetoed the gay marriage bill last year, Angelides compared Schwarzenegger with segregationists who came to regret their views, such as George Wallace and Strom Thurmond.
Angelides’ campaign saw Thursday’s event as pandering.
“What does Arnold Schwarzenegger believe in beyond trying to save his own job?” said Dan Newman, campaign spokesman for Angelides. “One day he is vetoing civil rights bills, and the next day this.”
Conservative activists launched an e-mail and phone campaign to pressure the governor to cancel his appearance at the fundraiser and to condemn him for signing a proclamation praising gay pride events that took place around the state last weekend.
Randy Thomasson, president of the lobbying group Campaign for Children and Families, has been a frequent critic of Schwarzenegger on the issue of gay rights.
He said in a written statement this week: “No Republican governor in California history has promoted transsexuality, bisexuality and homosexuality like Arnold Schwarzenegger has.”