SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Sean Penn, who won an Oscar for playing gay
rights hero Harvey Milk, said Tuesday he was confident Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger would sign a bill officially recognizing Milk's
birthday in California even though he vetoed it last year.
Appearing at a news conference with the bill's author, state
Sen. Mark Leno, and several of Milk's contemporaries who were
featured in the movie "Milk," Penn said he did not want to insult
the intelligence of a fellow actor by expecting Schwarzenegger to
veto the measure again.
"I would never assume such ignorance as for him to not have
revised his (position)," Penn said, staring into a bank of
television cameras at a cafe that shares the name of Milk's
favorite opera, "Tosca." "I have too much respect for him to be
able to do that."
Leno's bill would require Schwarzenegger, who starred in the
"Terminator" movies and other blockbusters, to establish May 22
of each year as a "day of significance." Unlike an official
holiday, Harvey Milk Day would not give state workers the day off,
but schools would be encouraged to conduct lessons on the late San
Francisco supervisor's life and legacy.
Milk, one of the nation's first openly gay elected officials,
was an outspoken gay rights advocate at a time when coming out as a
gay carried substantial personal and professional risks. He was
assassinated along with Mayor George Moscone by another city
supervisor in 1978.
After last year's measure passed both houses of the Legislature,
conservative groups lobbied Schwarzenegger to veto it, saying they
objected to having gay issues taught in schools.
In his September veto message, the governor said that while he
respected the bill's intent, he thought Milk's "contributions
should continue to be recognized at the local level by those who
were most impacted by his contributions."
Spokeswoman Rachel Cameron said Schwarzenegger has not taken a
position on the revived legislation and would not until it reaches
his desk. Leno estimated that would happen by the end of August.
Leno also stressed that the measure would not require schools to
commemorate Milk, but said opposition from parents should not
dissuade schools from tackling the subject of Milk's contributions.
"What if families said their religion required them not to
expose their children to the equal rights of African Americans?
Would we all think they should take their children out of school
for that?" he said.
Leno noted that California already observes a day of
significance in honor of naturalist John Muir. Milk, he said, "is
every bit as important an individual in California history who gave
his life serving in public office. He gave his life. Quite
honestly, I'm offended if someone objects to their children
learning that part of California history."
Penn said that based on the biographical research he did to
portray Milk, he thought the late leader's story of self-acceptance
and sacrifice carried valuable lessons.
"I trust that Governor Schwarzenegger is an increasingly
reasonable man and that he understands that passing on prejudices
... that surround this issue and so many others is poisonous to
future generations," Penn said.
California's largest gay rights group on Tuesday started airing
a new ad that traces gay and lesbian history from the times of
persecution in Nazi Germany to the passage in November of a ballot
measure that rescinded the right to wed same-sex couples had won
last year in California.
Gay marriage will again be before the California Supreme Court
on Thursday, when justices will be asked to the voter-approved ban
on the nuptials.
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