SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to legalize same-sex marriage or raise the minimum wage in a flurry of vetoes Thursday that killed a spate of Democratic-backed labor and consumer protection bills.
On a day when the governor rejected 52 bills, he discarded proposals that would have helped consumers buy cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. He refused to expand punishments for employers that flout minimum wage laws, pay women less than men or resist paying workers' compensation claims.
He declined to protect nurses from being required to work overtime or having to lift patients on their own. And he vetoed legislation to allow workers locked out by employees during pay disputes to collect unemployment benefits.
The governor also vetoed a bill to create greater oversight of the state's $3-billion stem cell research program.
In vetoing the bill to legalize gay marriage, the governor wrote that he believed gay couples were "entitled to full protection under the law and should not be discriminated against." But, as he had signaled weeks before, he said the bill would have wrongly reversed an initiative California voters approved five years ago.
The measure, AB 849 by Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), was the nation's first bill that sanctioned same-sex marriage to clear a state legislature without a court order. It passed the Senate and Assembly this month with no Republican votes and no votes to spare after lengthy debate.
Leno accused Schwarzenegger of "hiding behind the fig leaf" of a 2000 ballot measure, Proposition 22, which declares that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." More than 61% of California voters approved the measure. Recent polls, however, suggest that voters are now evenly divided on the issue.
The assemblyman said the veto "puts the governor on the wrong side of history."
"He cannot claim to support fair and equal legal protections for same-sex couples," Leno said, "and veto the very bill that would have provided it to them."
But the governor won praise from gay marriage opponents, who called Leno's bill an illegal attempt to circumvent Proposition 22.
"The governor really had no choice, because signing it would itself be an illegal act," said Andrew Pugno, a Sacramento attorney representing the groups that backed Proposition 22 five years ago. "The Constitution requires another vote of the people to change an initiative."
Geoffrey Kors, executive director of the gay rights group Equality California, called Schwarzenegger's rejection of same-sex marriage and expansion of domestic-partner rights a political bid to "play both sides."
Schwarzenegger's core Republican constituency has become increasingly important as the governor's public approval rating has plummeted to 33% this week, according to a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.
Kors' group spent more than $100,000 on television ads -- in Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Palm Springs -- that pressured Schwarzenegger to sign Leno's bill. The ads showed images of President Kennedy and labor leader Cesar Chavez and beseeched the governor to "be a hero."
Schwarzenegger also vetoed a bill that would have raised the state's minimum wage -- now at $6.75 an hour -- by 50 cents starting in July and another 50 cents in July 2007. After that, the minimum wage would have automatically increased to keep up with inflation.
The bill, AB 48 by Assemblywoman Sally Lieber (D-Mountain View), had been targeted for defeat by the California Chamber of Commerce as a "job killer" that would have cost many small businesses at least $41,000 more a year after 2007.
Last year Schwarzenegger vetoed a Lieber bill to increase the minimum wage, saying, "Now is not the time to create barriers to our economic recovery or reverse the momentum we have generated."
In this year's veto message, the governor said he would have been willing to approve a minimum wage increase that could not automatically go up each year with inflation.
Schwarzenegger said in an interview Thursday that he told Democratic lawmakers, "I believe this is the year our economy has come back enough that we can increase the minimum wage.
"And they jammed me with a bill that has an escalating clause on top of that."
Art Pulaski, head of the California Labor Federation, questioned Schwarzenegger's commitment to workers.
"It seems he's vetoed practically every bill that was intended to improve the quality of life or protect working families," Pulaski said.
Schwarzenegger also vetoed legislation that:
* Would have provided more state oversight of the stem cell research institute created by voters last year through Proposition 71. SB 18, written by Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento), passed the Legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support, but Schwarzenegger said the proposition had decreed that new laws could not be passed until three years after it was created.