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Groups dig in to
fight California antigay amendment

Groups dig in to
fight California antigay amendment

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A coalition of about 200 religious, labor, and civil rights groups announced plans to join forces to defeat a proposed amendment to the California constitution that would ban same-sex marriage and strip gay couples of most of the spousal rights they already have as domestic partners. Although the amendment has not yet qualified for an upcoming election, members of the Equality for All coalition said Wednesday they didn't want to waste any time gearing up to warn voters of what they claim would be the measure's drastic implications for many types of untraditional families, gay and straight. "It would be my hope that this initiative is opposed by troves--by hundreds, by thousands--and never gets off the ground," said the Reverend Cecil Williams, a veteran social activist who leads San Francisco's Glide Memorial Church. Organizers of the alliance held simultaneous news conferences in Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco to denounce the amendment, which was filed with the state attorney general last week by a group called VoteYesMarriage.com. The language of the proposed Voters' Right to Protect Marriage Initiative unambiguously states that if passed, lawmakers would be prevented from extending either marriage licenses or any of the rights and responsibilities that come with marriage to gay and lesbian couples. That would mean revoking the nearly full spousal benefits the state has conferred on registered domestic partners, which can include not only same-sex couples but unmarried senior citizens. "This measure is extreme, it's far-reaching, and it's clearly unacceptable," said Eddie Gutierrez, spokesman for the gay rights group Equality California. "It is the most hurtful and far-sweeping of anything seen of this nature." Outside Massachusetts and Vermont, California offers the strongest legal protections to same-sex couples in the nation. Massachusetts has allowed same-sex marriage since May 2004. Vermont has offered civil unions to gays since 2000; Connecticut will begin offering civil unions in October. An expanded domestic-partners law that took effect this year in California gave gay partners who register with the state automatic parental rights over children born during their relationships, access to divorce court, and the guaranteed ability to make funeral arrangements and medical decisions for each other. But opponents of the measure say it would go even further, affecting the ability of gay couples and single men and women to adopt children, to take medical leave to care for an intimate companion, or to decide who may visit them in the hospital or inherit their estates. The portion of the amendment that has gay rights advocates most worried states: "The People find and declare it is in a child's best interest to have a mother and a father, and that marriage rights for one man and one woman should be protected for the well-being of children and families." "This measure is particularly vicious and far-reaching. The bottom line is, the measure is antihumanity as well as antifamily," said Thalia Zepatos, deputy director of organizing and training at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "Single mothers, men and women who benefit from domestic-partner benefits who are not married, grandparents raising children--we cannot exclude the many families who do not fall under the definition of one man, one woman, and their children." Participating organizations in the coalition include state chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; the Japanese American Citizens League; the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees; the California Teachers Association; and the Gray Panthers. The amendment's sponsors must submit nearly 600,000 signatures from voters to the California secretary of state to qualify the measure for the June 2006 ballot.

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