California Gov. Gray Davis added fuel to his opponents’ recall fire by signing a controversial bill that authorizes fines of up to $150,000 for companies or nonprofit groups, such as the Boy Scouts, that discriminate against cross-dressers, transsexuals or drag queens.

The governor signed the measure Saturday along with the $71.1 billion budget for fiscal year 2003-4. The move fell under the radar screens of most California media outlets.

The law, which will take effect Jan. 1, 2004, adds “gender identity or expression” to the characteristics protected under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act and specifically protects residents whose “perceived gender characteristics are different from those traditionally associated with the individual’s sex at birth.”

The Assembly approved the bill in April by a vote of 41 to 34, the minimum needed to pass. The state Senate, led by Democrats, followed suit earlier this month with a vote of 23 to 11.

The new law, which provides an exemption for religious groups, makes California the fourth state to bar discrimination on the basis of “perceived gender,” behind New Mexico, Rhode Island and Minnesota.

Homosexual-rights advocates hail the law as a victory that’s been a long time in coming.

“It’s a very big issue for the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] community in California,” Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told the Associated Press. “It’s something we’ve been working on for three years.”

The measure, titled AB 196, was one of a package proposed this year by the five-member Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus. Earlier this year, the state Assembly passed a bill that would award virtually all the rights of marriage to homosexual “domestic partners.” The Senate is expected to take it up next month.

“Having a law that specifically states who’s protected makes it clear to employers that the majority of people in California want transgender people to be able to work in a nondiscriminatory environment,” said Chris Daley, co-director of the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco.

Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco

Arguing for its necessity, the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, cites a 1999 study by the San Francisco Department of Public Health indicating the city’s transgender population had a 70 percent unemployment rate.

“We must do everything in our power to protect such fundamental human rights,” he said.

Opponents call the move bad for business. Employer groups such as the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Manufacturers and Technology Association warn the law’s overly subjective definitions will spawn frivolous lawsuits. Just about any comment or action between workers could be grounds for a lawsuit, they contend.

Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy of Monrovia was one of several members who spoke about how the measure harms California businesses during debate in the Assembly.

“If I have a Christian bookstore, how could I possibly follow this law?” he asked. “How could I possibly have an employee that’s here today in a dress, tomorrow may come in a suit, and then stay in a dress? How can I possibly employ this employee and still have the Christian bookstore and live by my faith?”

Randy Thomasson, executive director of Campaign for California Families, a statewide family issues leadership organization, describes the law as “attacking persons of conscience.”

“Average people think it’s outrageous to force the sex-change lifestyle upon businesses and Boy Scouts. Gray Davis has apparently lost his senses,” he said. “With his signature on AB 196, Davis has declared war on Californians who object to sex-change operations.”

As WorldNetDaily reported, Davis’ signature will likely motivate opponents to turn out in greater numbers for the Oct. 7 recall vote.

California Gov. Gray Davis

Less than a year into his second term, Davis is grappling with a staggering deficit projected at more than $38 billion and rock-bottom approval ratings. He becomes the first sitting governor in the history of California and only the second in U.S. history to face a recall election.

The governor derides the drive to oust him as “a hostile takeover by the right,” and allies have said they expect to spend $15 million to $20 million to keep him in office.

With the Aug. 9 filing deadline looming, hundreds of people – from activists and filmmakers to a comedian and billboard queen – have filed to have their names added to the ballot. Self-described “smut peddler” Larry Flynt joined the dozens who have paid the $3,500 filing fee.

U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, who bankrolled the recall signature-gathering recall effort with $1.7 million of his own money – is the only declared Republican in the race. Failed gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon and state Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks are expected to run. Others contemplating a run are state Sen. Bruce McPherson, R-Santa Cruz, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and controversial, nationally syndicated radio talk-show host Michael Savage.

Opponents of the “cross-dresser bill” plan to hold a news conference tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. at the State Treasurer’s Building in Sacramento to highlight the law’s detrimental effect on business. Speakers will include Thomasson and other pro-family leaders, including local ministers representing black, white and Latino voters.

“By supporting the transsexual agenda that hurts everyone else, Gray Davis has earned his recall,” said Thomasson. “The in-your-face transsexual agenda makes voters very angry. … Gray Davis tried to hide his actions by signing this radical sex-change bill under cover of the budget, but he won’t get away with it.”

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