A largely partisan state Senate debate between Democrats and Republicans ended Monday with a decision to replace the statue of Father Junipero Serra in Washington, D.C.’s National Statuary Hall Collection with a statue of NASA astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space and an acknowledged lesbian. The resolution needed 21 votes to pass; the final tally was 22-10.
The National Statuary Hall Collection contains two statues from each state; California is represented by Ronald Reagan and Serra; Serra’s has stood in the Hall since 1934. In 2000, a law established that a new statue could be installed to replace the old one, as long as the old one had been in place for ten years. Reagan’s was installed in 2007, and is, therefore, ineligible for replacement.
Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), who is openly gay, sponsored the resolution, intoning, “For the first time ever, LGBT youths will see themselves in Statuary Hall,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) echoed, “She was a hero and she inspired girls and women to pursue their interest in math and science.”
Most GOP legislators opposed the change, pointing out that Serra, who may soon be canonized, forwarded the state of California with his establishment of the mission system. Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Murrieta) asserted, “Removing his statue would be an affront to the people of California and it would be an insult to the tens of millions of Catholics that call California home.” According to UT-San Diego, Steve Pehanich, spokesman for the California Catholic Conference, added, “Where’s the rush coming from? Why not just wait until next year?” Serra’s controversial history, which included occasional violent treatment of Native Americans, was not discussed during the debate.
The decision must be approved by the state Assembly and signed by the governor before it is sent to the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress.