This post was written with the help of Mike McQuinn, one of the leaders of Jerry Brown's LGBT movement.
There's been a lot of talk this election season about Jerry Brown's refusal to defend Prop 8 in court. As Attorney General, his utmost responsibility is to uphold the law, and he found the measure to be in direct violation of the constitution--plain and simple.
But you might not know that Jerry has been standing up for gay rights for decades. So in honor of GLBT History Month, here's a little California history lesson for you.
Back in the day, we had a discriminatory law in place that made consensual sex between two gay men a felony. In 1975, shortly after becoming governor, Jerry successfully repealed it.
Abolishing the measure proved to be a difficult undertaking. In fact, Jerry's Lieutenant Governor broke the tied vote in the State Senate. Controversy notwithstanding, when the repeal bill got to his desk, Jerry unflinchingly signed it.
Fast-forward three years to Jerry's re-election campaign. Alongside his name on the November ballot was an incredibly divisive proposition dubbed the Briggs Initiative. This initiative aimed to give school boards the power to fire gay and lesbian teachers solely based on their sexual orientation.
A typical politician running for re-election at the time (and maybe even now) would have ducked the issue and focused his energies on his own campaign. But Jerry was, and is, no typical politician, so he decided to take a bold public stance against discrimination.
With the likes of Supervisor Harvey Milk and President Jimmy Carter, Jerry campaigned to defeat the Briggs Initiative. Like the anti-sodomy law before it, Jerry knew such government intrusion into personal life represented the antithesis of the society he'd been striving to govern since his first day in public office.
The Briggs Initiative was annihilated at the polls. Jerry coasted to victory.
But he wasn't satisfied with the progress already made on his watch just yet.
After his re-election, Jerry supported legislation barring employment discrimination based on sexual orientation because, as he explained, the "diversity of our people can be a cause of hatred and anxiety or the source of strength and continued achievement. The choice is ours."
He also appointed five openly LGBT judges to the bench, including two firsts: the first openly gay and openly lesbian judges in United States history.
Although nearly 20 years passed before either another LGBT judge was appointed or the employment protections envisioned by Jerry became state law, none of these sweeping reforms would have been possible without his pioneering spirit and commitment to promoting equality.