Friday, March 27, 2009

Assemblymember Marty Block Defends Prop. 8 Stance

Explains to Queer Democrats Why He Wouldn’t Vote for an Anti-8 Resolution


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Recently elected California Assemblymember Marty Block appeared before the predominantly Queer San Diego Democratic Club at its regular meeting March 26 to explain his controversial refusal to vote for a resolution, H. R. 5, that sought to put the California State Assembly on record as urging the state supreme court to throw out Proposition 8. Along with openly Gay Los Angeles-area Assemblymember John Pérez — the first openly Queer person of color elected to the California legislature — Block spoke at the club meeting and made it clear that his opposition to the resolution was based on separation-of-powers principles and his belief that it’s wrong for the elected branches of government to tell the courts how to rule on a pending case.

California voters passed Proposition 8, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, on the same day — November 4, 2008 — as Block won his election and Barack Obama carried California by a 24 percent margin. Proposition 8, which was intended to reverse the California Supreme Court’s May 15, 2008 ruling interpreting the state constitution as requiring the legal recognition of same-sex marriages, passed statewide by a five-point margin. But the initiative carried Block’s district by a far more sweeping margin than the statewide one, with over 57 percent of the voters in favor — many of them African-Americans and Latinos who, though progressive on other issues, felt obliged by religious or social beliefs to reject same-sex marriage.

Some club members accused Block of not voting for the resolution in order to appease pro-8 voters in his district, and they staged a protest outside the meeting room with a person dressed as a duck to tell Block not to “duck” controversial issues involving the Queer community. Even the young club members who set up the refreshment table joined in the theme by offering cookies in the shape of ducks.

At the meeting, Block and Pérez were not allowed to give prepared statements. Instead they had to answer questions, first from the club’s board and then questions from the audience. The first question aimed at Block expressed the club’s anger at him for his vote against H. R. 5: “It is clear that you did not support our rights because of [fear of] political fallout from the 57 percent in your district who voted for Proposition 8.”

“The resolution is different from whether I support marriage equality” for same-sex couples, Block said. “I support marriage equality. I think this was a misguided resolution. I have not only been an attorney but also a judge, and it’s not a good thing for legislators to tell judges how to vote on a pending case.” He said the proper way for the legislature to express its views to the court on the Proposition 8 legal challenge was to file an amicus curiae [“friend of the court”] brief — and, he added, “I was one of the first to sign on to an amicus brief that said what Resolution 5 said but in an appropriate manner.”

Block was taken to task for mentioning in his letter to constituents explaining why he didn’t vote for H. R. 5 that Proposition 8 had passed in his district with 57 percent of the vote — a result he called “heartbreaking” — and Pérez said that one reason so many people of color voted for Proposition 8 (the measure did better among African-Americans and Latinos than it did among whites, though not by the whopping margins announced immediately after the election) was that the No on 8 campaign didn’t bother reaching out to them.

“My district voted overwhelmingly for Proposition 8, but it also elected me,” Pérez said. “That was because I went out and walked the district. We need to invest in coalition politics. Too many folks in the [No on 8] campaign didn’t understand that.”

Asked if he says different things to African-American and Latino constituents than he says to the Queer community on marriage equality and other Queer-rights issues, Block hotly denied it. He reminded the club that in the run-up to the November 4 election, “the newspapers in the African-American community all had big ads saying, ‘Vote no on Marty Block because he supports Gay marriage.’ I don’t give a different answer from what I’m giving now.”

When a club member quoted Block as having said the previous Sunday that if he had the H. R. 5 vote to do over again, he’d do the same thing, he got Block to pull back a little and admit that he should have given his Queer supporters a heads-up and warned them before the actual vote. “I still think the resolution was fundamentally flawed and misguided,” Block said. “I understand I disappointed a lot of people in this community by taking a position I thought was intellectually right. If I had it to do over again, I might take into account how I might be disillusioning young people. … I knew this wouldn’t be a popular vote with this club, and I love this club. It’s been both passionate and creative, and the duck shows both.”

Alan Acevedo, president of the Stonewall Young Democrats — the club’s youth wing — made a statement, thinly disguised as a question, that made it clear he’s precisely one of those young people whom Block disillusioned by his vote against H. R. 5. “A lot of us worked on your campaign because we thought you would be a candidate that represented your heart,” Acevedo said. “Now they’re disillusioned and don’t see a difference between you and John McCann” — the Republican Block defeated on November 4.

“I did do what I thought was right,” Block said. “I support marriage equality, but I thought this resolution was flawed. Nobody who gets elected will be with you 100 percent of the time. This resolution told the voters that what they did in November didn’t matter, and it threatened the courts. I don’t think it’s appropriate for the legislature to tell the courts what to do. It’s a difference in tactics, not [a question about] my underlying belief in marriage equality.” Block also compared H. R. 5 to the efforts by Right-wingers to pressure courts to rule in favor of restrictions on abortion rights, and said these sorts of outside attempts to intimidate judges into ruling a specific way on a specific case are wrong no matter which side of the political spectrum they come from.

Block got an important voice of support from a legislative colleague, openly Lesbian State Senator Christine Kehoe, who in 1993 became the first openly Queer elected official in San Diego County when she won a City Council race with the club’s strong support. “I have not lost trust in Marty Block,” she said. “I was disappointed in him, and I told him so. But I think Marty has learned a lot from this. I know this club well, and Marty does too. He’s not new to the club, or to elective office, but he is new to the California State Assembly. He has some rebuilding to do, but when it comes to protecting Gay youth in foster care, domestic partners having the same insurance married people do, or LGBT prisoners getting to see their partners, every one of these issues is the difference between Block and McCann. Not a single Republican voted for marriage or domestic partnerships in any legislative committee or on the legislative floor. There is a difference.”