Penn says he assumes Gov. will honor Milk

March 3, 2009 6:35:32 PM PST
Still fresh from winning the best-actor Oscar for playing gay rights hero Harvey Milk, Sean Penn expressed confidence Tuesday that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would sign a bill officially recognizing Milk's birthday in California even though he vetoed it last year.

Appearing at a news conference with the bill's author, state Sen. Mark Leno, and several of Milk's contemporaries who were featured in the movie "Milk," Penn said he did not want to insult the intelligence of a fellow actor by expecting Schwarzenegger to veto the measure again.

"I would never assume such ignorance as for him to not have revised his (position)," Penn said, staring into a bank of TV cameras at a cafe that shares the name of Milk's favorite opera, "Tosca." "I have too much respect for him to be able to do that."

Leno's bill would require Schwarzenegger, who starred in the "Terminator" movies and other blockbusters, to establish May 22 of each year as a "day of significance." Unlike an official holiday, Harvey Milk Day would not give state workers the day off, but schools would be encouraged to conduct lessons on the late San Francisco supervisor's life and legacy.

Milk was an outspoken gay rights advocate at a time when coming out carried substantial personal and professional risks. He was assassinated along with Mayor George Moscone by another city supervisor in 1978.

After last year's measure passed both houses of the Legislature, conservative groups lobbied Schwarzenegger to veto it, saying they objected to having gay issues taught in schools.

In his September veto message, the governor said that while he respected the bill's intent, he thought Milk's "contributions should continue to be recognized at the local level by those who were most impacted by his contributions."

Spokeswoman Rachel Cameron said Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on the revived legislation and would not until it reaches his desk. Leno estimated that would happen by the end of August.

Penn said that based on the biographical research he did to portray Milk, he thought the late leader's story of self-acceptance and sacrifice carried valuable lessons.

"I trust that Gov. Schwarzenegger is an increasingly reasonable man and that he understands that passing on prejudices ... that surround this issue and so many others is poisonous to future generations," Penn said.

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