A bill to honor gay civil rights pioneer Harvey Milk was vetoed by Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The bill that would have declared Milk's birthday, May 22, as "Harvey Milk Day," a "day of special significance" in California, eased through the state legislature, was pushed by authored by San Francisco Democratic Assemblymember Mark Leno.
The governor released a statement about the veto, saying that, while he respected the measure’s intent, he thinks Milk’s “contributions should continue to be recognized at the local level.”
Milk was the first openly-gay elected official in San Francisco and one of the first in the nation when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He sponsored and worked to successfully pass an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. He also worked to defeat the statewide Briggs Initiative, which would have banned gay men and lesbians from teaching in California schools.
Milk and Mayor George Moscone were shot to death a year later by fellow supervisor Dan White. Thousands attended a spontaneous vigil held the night of Milk’s funeral and heard a taped recording of Milk’s famous statement that “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”
In a contentious trial which spawned the term, Twinkie Defense, White was convicted of manslaughter, and released after a little more than three years. He committed suicide shortly after his release.
Conservatives and religious leaders urged the governor to let the bill die, even though it would make no fiscal impact on the state's budget and did not require a holiday for state workers.
“Harvey Milk is a hero who stood for simple equality and justice, and ultimately gave his life for these principles," said Human Rights Campaign Executive Director Joe Solmonese. "It would have been fitting to officially recognize his birthday as a day of special significance in California. However, as everyone who admires Harvey Milk fully understands, we can pay this great man lasting tribute by working to make equality a reality for all Californians.”
A film on Milk's life, “The Life and Times of Harvey Milk,” directed by Gus Van Sant will be released next month.