state's history of promoting gay rights, Californians have
been split on the subject of same-sex marriage--a
contrast that's expected to become even more
pronounced because of two overlapping voter
initiatives. Fearing that courts eventually will support the
rights of gay couples to marry, opponents want voters
to amend the state constitution to allow only
However, a rift among conservatives has led
competing groups to promote two different bans and
snipe at each other over which is better. Both
petitions would do away with rights associated with domestic
partnerships as well as same-sex unions.
Conservatives worry the infighting could doom
the initiatives, while gay rights advocates say voters
are not likely to discard established
domestic-partnership rights. "There is obviously a rift in
the family over which of the proposed amendments best
protects marriage and protects the rights and benefits
of marriage," said Benjamin Lopez, a lobbyist for the
Traditional Values Coalition who tried to unite the
competing groups behind one measure earlier this year.
"The situation right now is delicate."
Voters agreed five years ago in a ballot
initiative, Proposition 22, that marriage should be
limited to the union of a man and a woman, but courts
said the law violated gay couples' civil rights.
Last week the California legislature became the
nation's first legislative body to approve a bill
allowing same-sex marriages, although Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger has said he will veto it. Between the ballot
initiatives, a group called Vote Yes Marriage favors a
detailed, multiparagraph version that would rescind
the marriage-like rights that state lawmakers have
granted to domestic partners over the last five years
while also defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
The other group, Protect Marriage, does it in
one sentence: "A marriage between a man and a woman is
the only legal union that shall be valid or recognized
in this state." The sponsors have until January to
gather 598,105 signatures to put the amendments on next
June's ballot. Andrew Pugno, legal adviser to Protect
Marriage, said that group wants to keep the wording
simple as a strategic move.
Backers of the longer Vote Yes Marriage version
say that while the Protect Marriage initiative might
keep the courts and the legislature from allowing
marriage licenses for same-sex couples, it would not
necessarily do away with domestic partnerships. Thirteen
states already have constitutional bans on same-sex
marriage. Others are expected to be on ballots next
year in Alabama, Indiana, Wisconsin, South Carolina,
Colorado, Arizona, Florida, Virginia, South Dakota, and
Tennessee. Voters in Texas will decide on an amendment
outlawing same-sex marriage this year.
Although Proposition 22 passed with 61% of the
vote five years ago, a recent poll by the Public
Policy Institute of California found that voters are
evenly divided on whether gay couples should be allowed to
marry. Other polls have found that a majority think same-sex
couples deserve at least domestic-partnership rights.
Gay rights advocates say that by attempting to
void California's domestic-partnership laws as well as
ban same-sex marriage, both proposals might be
spelling their defeat. But they nevertheless are
bracing for the likelihood that at least one will make the
June ballot and the possibility that the second would
be put before voters the following November.
"Ultimately, it wouldn't surprise me if this is a way
for two different groups to raise as much money as possible
and then join forces," said Geoffrey Kors, executive
director of the lobbying group Equality California.
"We are suspicious of their motivation because we know
they are motivated by wanting to take away the rights of
our families." (Lisa Leff, AP)