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SACRAMENTO — A legislative attempt to legalize gay marriage in California was voted out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Tuesday on an 8-3 vote. AB 1967, introduced by Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, seeks to make California’s definition of marriage gender-neutral. But the measure isn’t expected to affect the same-sex case pending before the California Supreme Court. “I see this as a parallel track,” Leno said. “Because of actions taken by the city of San Francisco, there will finally be a constitutional challenge to the existing law, which is Section 300 of the California Family Code. That is the very section and code that my bill is amending,” said Leno. If signed into law, AB 1967 would allow married gay couples to enjoy the same rights granted to other married couples, including the right to jointly file tax returns. That will probably cost the state an as-yet-undetermined amount of money, which could total in the millions, Leno estimated. That fact alone may bottle up the bill in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, pending the outcome of budget negotiations. But that doesn’t diminish the legislative progress made in committee, Leno said. “There is nothing cosmetic about this,” said Leno. “This is an enormous, if incremental, step forward.” A spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the governor does not comment on pending legislation. A month ago, the governor did discuss the gay marriage issue on “The Tonight Show,” saying he opposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning gay marriage and might be open to amending the state’s ban. “Let the courts decide,” the governor told talk show host Jay Leno. “Let the people decide.” Mark Leno’s bill marked the second time a bill legalizing gay marriages was heard by the Assembly Judiciary Committee. The first attempt, in 1991, was introduced by Assemblyman-turned Senator John Burton and failed to receive a single vote. “If this bill is enacted by the legislature and signed by the governor,” said Hallye Jordan, a spokesman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer, “we will defend it as we are defending current laws dealing with marriage and current laws dealing with domestic partnership.”

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