SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) said he would veto a bill to legalize same-sex marriage "out of respect for the will of the people," drawing heated criticism from gay rights supporters and cheers from conservative groups.
The bill, narrowly passed by lawmakers in the past week, would make California (search) the first state to legalize same-sex marriage through its legislature. In Massachusetts, recognition of gay marriages came through a court ruling.
But Schwarzenegger said Wednesday the legislation would conflict with the intent of voters when they approved an initiative five years ago that prevents California from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states or countries.
"We cannot have a system where the people vote and the Legislature derails that vote," the governor's press secretary, Margita Thompson (search), said in a statement.
Conservatives hailed the announcement.
"I'm encouraged that the governor is going to stop the runaway Legislature, and he's going to represent the people," said Karen England of the Capitol Resource Institute, a Sacramento group that lobbied against the bill.
But gay rights advocates said the Republican governor had betrayed the bipartisan ideals that helped get him elected in the 2003 recall election.
"Clearly he's pandering to an extreme right wing, which was not how he got elected," said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, one of the bill's sponsors. "He got elected with record numbers of lesbian and gay voters who had not previously voted for a Republican, and he sold us out."
The governor has until Oct. 9 to issue the veto. A veto override in California requires a two-thirds vote in both the Assembly and Senate. The Assembly approved the bill 41-35, while the Senate voted 21-15.
Despite his promise to veto the bill, Schwarzenegger still believes "gay couples are entitled to full protection under the law and should not be discriminated against based upon their relationship," Thompson's statement said. "He is proud that California provides the most rigorous protections in the nation for domestic partners."
California already gives same-sex couples many of the rights and duties of marriage if they register with the state as domestic partners.
Also Wednesday, in Massachusetts, a proposed ballot initiative that would ban same-sex marriages passed a major hurdle. The state attorney general ruled the initiative would be permitted under a section of the Massachusetts Constitution allowing voters to overturn court decisions.
The decision clears the way for conservative groups to begin gathering signatures and lobbying lawmakers in hopes of putting the issue before voters in 2008.