Brown, Willie: Repeal of sodomy law 1975


Willie Brown: So just before he went up I ask him, “Burton, what is it that all these people seem to want to go for the statutory revision that had taken place in the model penal code?” He said, “It has to do with Gay and Lesbian rights. It has to do with whether or not people could be prosecuted for having sexual activities with someone of the same sex.” John Burton gets up, and he speaks and he says he’s going to be supportive of the revisions to the model penal code. The place was still bustling with Burton, and I got up and said, “To be very clear, while I will promise you I’m going to support the model penal code revision, I promise you one more thing. We don’t need to wait for the whole model penal code. That could take years. I’m going to lift 288A out of the model penal code, and make it a separate bill unto itself. Five to seven minutes later, when the place began to quiet down, Burton got up and said, “And I will co-author it!” And five more minutes of standing ovations and screaming you would never believe. Of course we introduce the legislation in 1969, and it was promptly out the door so fast. It died so quickly you didn’t even know it was introduced, and we kept introducing it, and we kept introducing it. Finally, we get to the point where it became fashionable, we moved it out of the House, we got it over to the Senate, Moscone picked it up from there, and the most dramatic occasion of a President of the Senate, who happens to be the Lieutenant Governor, casting the deciding vote in a 20/20 tie. George Moscone orchestrated as my floor-jockey on that bill a 20/20 tie. And the way that was orchestrated is that in the early morning when the bill is to be taken up in the Senate after it had gotten out of committee through all the kinds of things we did to get it out of our house and the Senate committee. It was announced that day that Mervyn Dymally, Lieutenant Governor, was off to Colorado to visit the Lieutenant Governor of Colorado, another Black guy name George Brown, and that he would be gone. So the Senate would be without his leadership. That announcement was made and he left town. Now, we all knew George’s programming. That he was going to try to get it to where it was a twenty vote tie. And sure enough, four or five hours later the debate started and the debate when on for a while. Republicans were adamant that this bill had to die. They couldn’t wait to get on. And when they got to twenty on their side, Moscone was at eighteen. He moved one more vote on, and then the last vote didn’t want to vote. A fella name Nate Holden, Black Senator out of Los Angeles, and he kept himself in the senate lounge. I finally went into the senate lounge because he had made a commitment to me. We walked him out there and he cast the vote that made it 20/20. And that’s the point at which Moscone put a call on the House. A call on the House means that vote isn’t announced until the call is lifted. The call can only be lifted by a majority of the members saying “Lift the call.” Republicans were still unaware twenty won’t get you a lifting of the call. It takes twenty-one to be able to lift the call. So Moscone not only had to get it to 20/20, he had to also keep all twenty of his votes on the floor to avoid either an adjournment motion or a lifting of the call motion before we could get Dymally back. So we got Dymally out of Colorado on a plane, flew him back, walked him into the chambers, and Moscone all day long holding his twenty hostage so that there could be no movement on that bill. Literally, Mr. Dymally walks in and casts the deciding vote on the bill that was on the floor jockeyed under Moscone’s leadership. The most dramatic occasion for me on the legislature, and I suspect for George as well, was that occasion.


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The Moscone oral history interviews are part of the George Moscone Collection, MSS 328.

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