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    Speaking Out for Civil Rights

    speakingCalifornians have adopted laws by ballot initiative for over a hundred years. The people have this power in order to hold state leaders accountable and to enact laws elected officials are incapable or unwilling to create. But what are lawmakers to do when an initiative is so contrary to the principles they are elected to uphold? My colleagues and I now face this question and some of us have decided to speak out.

    Introduced by eight Bay Area lawmakers, including myself, Assembly Concurrent Resolution (ACR) 67 condemns the so-called Sodomite Suppression Act. By amending the Penal Code, the Act would authorize abhorrent methods to punish the LGBT community and its allies.

    If passed, it would require that all LGBT Californians “be put to death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method.” Members of the LGBT community would be prohibited from serving in public office or receiving any public service. And, anyone speaking out for equality would be fined, imprisoned, or expelled from the state.

    Rooted in intimidation and suppression, the Act is not simply illegal. Enlisting the general public in the holocaust of any minority group entitled to equal rights is not a choice to make in a civilized society like ours that values diversity and equality.

    Dr. Martin Luther King famously said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” This is why I had to join Assemblymember Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo) as an author of the following resolution: The text of ACR 67 reads, “the Legislature stands in moral and legal objection to the ballot measure proposing to enact the Sodomite Suppression Act, and to any other ballot measure that seeks to inflict harm on innocent persons or diminish current civil rights protections.”

    Although our Attorney General is rightly seeking to halt the Act from moving forward, it is not clear that effort will be successful. If the court decides that the proposed initiative shall move forward unhindered as protected free speech, then it will be circulated for voter signatures—the next step to qualify for the ballot.

    As we await the court’s ruling, we may take some small comfort from numbers that illustrate the challenging road to turn an idea into a ballot measure into a law. As a matter of procedure, it now takes 365,880 signatures to qualify an initiative for the ballot, and I cannot fathom that many California voters want to allow a vote on this abomination. Also, according to our Secretary of State, some 1,828 initiatives have been circulated for voter signatures since 1912. Of these, 363 qualified for the ballot and 123 were approved by the voters.

    Given its defiance of basic standards of decency, I believe the Act is destined to fail one way or another. But confidence in this outcome is not enough. The proposal cannot be dismissed as crazy. Its very existence demeans the dignity of our democracy and our shared humanity.

    As Californians confront this initiative and its message of hate, ACR 67 is a chance for all lawmakers to take a stand and speak out. I hope every lawmaker supports it.

    Phil Ting represents the 19th Assembly District, which includes the Westside of San Francisco as well as the cities of Broadmoor, Colma and Daly City.