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Gay Issues Key In 37th Race

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Gay Issues Key In 37th Race

By Gene Maddaus

Assemblywoman Laura Richardson has made good on her pledge to support gay marriage, voting with 41 other Democrats to pass a bill by Mark Leno on the Assembly floor.

While Richardson fulfilled a promise, the issue could complicate her campaign to replace the late Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald in Congress. Once an opponent of gay marriage, Richardson changed her mind relatively recently and has taken fire from both sides of the contentious issue.

Richardson's two most prominent opponents for the 37th District seat are state Sen. Jenny Oropeza, a gay marriage supporter who co-authored Leno's original bill in 2005; and Valerie McDonald, Millender-McDonald's daughter, who opposes gay marriage on religious grounds.

Richardson's history on the issue is more complicated. Eleven years ago, she sent out an anti-gay mailer in a legislative race, attacking her opponent for supporting a "radical gay rights agenda" that included gay marriage. Sen. Sheila Kuehl recently unearthed the mailer, which she called "homophobic and hateful" and put it in a fund raising e-mail for Oropeza.

Richardson has acknowledged she took bad advice from a campaign consultant. But she still opposed gay marriage as recently as 2004, when a resolution on the issue came before the Long Beach City Council, where she served as a councilwoman until her election to the Legislature last fall. She voted against the resolution, which failed by one vote, saying she did support civil unions, but not marriage.

But when the issue came before the Long Beach City Council again last year, Richardson joined a unanimous vote in favor of gay marriage.

She became offended, however, when another council member compared the ban on gay unions to prohibitions on interracial marriage during segregation.

"I would respectfully ask for sensitivity," she said at the time. "I happen to be the product of an interracial marriage. ... My mother and father had to carry around a marriage license to prohibit them from being put in jail. ... I don't necessarily see them as one and the same."

At a candidate debate at a bar in Long Beach last week, a member of the audience asked the candidates for their positions on gay marriage. Richardson announced she had pledged to support Leno's bill.

That prompted Oropeza to announce that she had "always supported them - always and forever." The moment proved to be the sharpest exchange between the two candidates all night.

Richardson could not be reached for comment on her vote on Wednesday.

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