As a state lawmaker seeks to legalize same-sex marriage, a church-led group has announced efforts to insert the existing definition of marriage into the California constitution and to strip same-sex couples of domestic-partner benefits. The Orange County-based Traditional Values Coalition, representing 8,300 churches, said Monday it was mounting the campaign on behalf of "pro-family, pro-marriage conservatives" to save marriage from a tide of laws expanding the rights of gay couples in recent years. "The fact that we're here today to discuss this issue is proof that there's been a gradual and concerted effort on the part of the homosexual community to advance its agenda on society," said Benjamin Lopez, a lobbyist for the coalition.
The announcement came as Assemblyman Mark Leno filed a bill that would allow gays to marry. At the urging of the coalition, Sen. Bill Morrow and Assemblyman Ray Haynes introduced constitutional amendments that would elevate the definition of marriage as a
union between a man and a woman from statute to the constitution. Adding the language to the constitution would prevent lawmakers from changing it without approval from voters.
The dueling measures introduced on the first day of the legislative session come a month after antigay marriage ballot initiatives passed in all 11 states that had them. Four years ago California voters passed a proposition that held that the state could recognize only a marriage between a man and a woman as valid.
Since then, however, lawmakers have passed a broad array of domestic-partner benefits, including a law that takes effect January 1 giving same-sex couples who register as domestic partners nearly all the legal rights and responsibilities as married spouses. Given the support in the Democrat-controlled legislature for domestic-partnership benefits, gay rights supporters predicted the amendments would not receive the two-thirds support needed to make it on the ballot for voters to decide. "They know they don't have two-thirds vote, so it's just theater," Leno said.
If it fails in the legislature, supporters could put it on the ballot through the petition process, but the Reverend Louis Sheldon, chairman of the coalition, said he would not speculate what his group would do. Sheldon, who has said he believes same-sex marriage is threatening the nation and society, said the
amendment was an effort to prevent gay rights supporters from circumventing the previously passed proposition. "They want to destroy marriage and the family as we know it today," he said. "Natural law opposes homosexuality--that is, body parts do not fit. That is worth thinking about."
Gay rights supporters said the coalition's latest attempts aim to harm gay families. "Their goal isn't just to limit the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. Their goal is to destroy lesbian and gay families," said Geoffrey Kors, executive director of Equality California, a state gay rights
lobbying group. "They are motivated by hate, and when you are motivated by hate, it has nothing to do with domestic partnership or marriage."
Based on some recent polls, it would appear both efforts are doomed. In June a Field Poll found a majority of Californians didn't support gay marriage, but they also didn't support a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. A year ago Field found that 72% of voters surveyed supported expanded rights for same-sex couples.
Leno's bill, renamed the "Religious Freedom and California Civil Marriage Protection Act," would amend a section of California's family code that defines marriage as "a personal relationship arising out of a civil contract between a man and woman" to read "between two persons." The new version of the bill contains a section that specifically says clergy members are not required to participate in a marriage ceremony against their beliefs. "Religious marriage and civil marriage is different," Kors said. "We aren't saying the government has to accept religious marriage.... It's a separate entity, and we want to make sure we don't want to take that away."
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he will support the voice of the people or a decision by the courts. And until they speak again, the word by 61% of voters four years ago was a "no." "He thinks the people already spoke on that," Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Margita Thompson said.