Late last week, while the media focused on his veto of the same-sex marriage proposal, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill intended to protect gay men and lesbians against discriminatory business practices.

Apparently, not too many people noticed.

Assembly Bill 1400, the Civil Rights Act of 2005, authored by Central Coast lawmaker John Laird, will expand anti-discrimination codes by including sexual orientation in the law. It builds upon the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, or medical condition. Laird’s bill forbids all businesses that provide services, goods or accommodations to the public—including shopping malls, hotels, bars and restaurants, schools and medical offices, among others—from discriminating based on sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.

Schwarzenegger signed this legislation into law on Sept. 29, the same day that he vetoed the same-sex marriage bill—an action that made state and national headlines.

“In any other year, AB 1400 bill would be the major civil rights bill of the session, and a lead news story when it was signed,” Laird says. “It is a significant change, and if that is the one good thing that happened out of the marriage veto, that’s not so bad.”

In a message delivered with his veto, Schwarzenegger reminded voters why he is considered a social liberal.

“I am proud California is a leader in recognizing and respecting domestic partnerships and the equal rights of domestic partners,” Schwarzenegger said. “I support current domestic partnership rights and will continue to defend and enforce these rights.”

Although he vetoed the same-sex marriage bill, the governor did sign three others that will strengthen protection for gays and lesbians in addition to Laird’s. One piece of legislation prohibits insurers and health plans from discriminating on the basis of gender identity; another allows domestic partners of public employees who retired prior to Jan 1, 2005, to receive death benefits; and the fourth will strengthen domestic partners’ property rights.

Same-sex marriage opponents like Randy Thomasson, president of Campaign for Children and Families, criticized the governor for signing the four bills.

“It’s outrageous that Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed other radical sexual agenda bills that undermine marriage and push the transsexual and homosexual agenda upon other Californians,” Thomasson said.

Meanwhile, conservative groups continue to collect signatures to put two initiatives on the ballot next year. One would create a constitutional ban on gay marriage and another would eliminate domestic partner rights.

Laird recognized that Schwarzenegger risked alienating these religious conservatives.

“The governor said he supports domestic partners rights,” Laird says. “He threw a wrench in those [initiatives]. It puts him at odds with those folks.”

David Jensen of the gay rights group Pride of Monterey County called Laird’s bill “a step forward.”

Jensen said he believes Schwarzenegger is being sincere when he says that gays and lesbians are entitled to full protection under the law.

“Last July, at our Pride event, the governor sent a letter. He did congratulate us for standing up for our civil rights,” Jensen says. “I think there are a lot of people in the gay community who, if they don’t see the governor as an ally—at least he’s not an enemy.”

Jensen points to a Public Policy Institute of California poll, released in early September, which indicates that for the first time, California voters are evenly split on whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

“A lot has changed in the last five years,” Jensen says. “More and more people really don’t see what the big deal is anymore. It is progress. We don’t expect things to change overnight.”

Pounds of produce Monterey exported to Kuwait in 2004, up 54% from 2003 (2,479,311 pounds). Source: Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office

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