Jerry Brown: Defending Equality For Decades

In honor of LGBT History Month, here's a little LGBT history for you, courtesy of Mike McQuinn. Mike, a second-year law student at University of San Francisco, works on Jerry Brown's GLBT outreach efforts.

You’ve probably heard about how Jerry Brown refused to defend Proposition 8 (the so-called California Marriage Protection Act) as our Attorney General. But what you probably didn’t know is that Jerry Brown has been standing up for equality for decades.

Shortly after becoming governor in 1975, Jerry successfully repealed the law which made consensual sex between gay men a felony. The anti-sodomy law was an oppressive bludgeon designed to keep gays and lesbians underground and in the closet by criminalizing us as human beings. This law ran up against an ideal that many Americans take for granted today, namely that the government has no business injecting itself into the most intimate aspects of our lives.

The measure was incredibly controversial at the time. In fact, Jerry’s Lieutenant Governor broke the tied vote in the State Senate. Controversy notwithstanding, when the repeal bill got to his desk, Jerry unflinchingly signed it.

Fast forward a few years to 1978. While Jerry’s re-election was on the ballot in the November election, so was an incredibly divisive proposition that, had it passed, would have given school boards the power to fire gay and lesbian teachers solely because of their sexual orientation.

Along with the likes of Supervisor Harvey Milk and President Jimmy Carter, Jerry campaigned against The Briggs Initiative because – like the anti-sodomy law –the kind of government intrusion that these laws represented is antithetical to the sort of free society that he’s been striving for since his first day in public office.

Running for re-election, a typical politician at the time (and maybe even now) would have ducked the issue and focused his energies on his own campaign. But just like with the anti-sodomy law, Jerry showed us that he’s not a typical politician. Instead, he made a bold and public stand against discrimination. Subsequently, the initiative went down in defeat at the polls, while he coasted to victory.

But Jerry wasn’t satisfied with the progress already made on his watch.

After his re-election, Jerry sounded the call for legislation barring employment discrimination based on sexual orientation because, as he said, “[t]he diversity of our people can be a cause of hatred and anxiety or the source of strength and continued achievement. The choice is ours.”

He also appointed five openly LGBT judges to the bench, including two firsts: the first openly gay and openly lesbian judges in United States history.

Unfortunately, nearly 20 years and two Republican governors went by before both another LGBT judge was appointed to the bench and the employment protections envisioned by Jerry became state law.

In Jerry, we have a candidate with more than a 35-year track record of taking principled and sometimes difficult stands for equality. Meanwhile, his opponent Meg Whitman has repeatedly voiced her support for Prop 8.

Jerry's long and consistent record of standing up for equality makes him the only candidate who can get this state working again. For everyone.

Jerry with Kamala Harris at the Alice B. Toklas Breakfast in June, courtesy of Bill Wilson Photography.


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