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Anti-same-sex-marriage groups struggle in California

Anti-same-sex-marriage groups struggle in California

As gay rights groups organize against a proposed state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and rolling back domestic-partnership rights, those pushing the ban are struggling to keep up.

While California's gay rights activists are stepping up their efforts to defeat a proposed marriage ban that would also roll back existing domestic-partnership rights in the state, the antigay group proposing the ban is struggling to gather the signatures necessary to get it on the 2006 ballot. Randy Thomasson, head of the Campaign for Children and Families, admitted on Friday that there's no chance of qualifying his antigay constitutional measure for the June 2006 ballot, and November might be out of reach as well. "Whether it be November 2006 or sometime in 2008, it doesn't matter," he said, according to the Inside Bay Area news Web site. "Ultimately, two thirds of Californians want marriage protected for one man and one woman...and in every state that has had a marriage amendment on the ballot, it has passed."

But that requires getting onto the ballot in the first place, and Thomasson said his fund-raising is nowhere near the $1 million or more he'd need to gather the 600,000 valid registered-voter signatures required.

Meanwhile, Equality California, the gay rights group opposing Thomasson's effort, last week announced it had added five new field organizers around the state and is seeking space for two new Southern California offices. The group has forged bonds with groups including the United Farm Workers and the NAACP, hired a widely known campaign consulting firm, and said it continues reaching out to possible allies.

Accoring to Inside Bay Area, Thomasson dismissed Equality California's "major strategic expansion" as nothing more than "a fund-raising gimmick.... They want more homosexual marriage supporters to give them money."

Another conservative advanced another ballot measure for a constitutional ban. "We got off to a slow start on this with the distraction of the special election, which diverted the effort of many we're playing catch-up," said Andy Pugno, that group's attorney, according to Inside Bay Area. "Now we're drowning in petitions. We've been focusing on getting petitions out to people, and now they're just starting to come back in, and we're trying to sort and count them as soon as possible."

It's too early to say whether a December 27 deadline will be met, Pugno said; even if it is, that will qualify the measure for November. To get it on June's ballot would have required submitting the petitions right around now, he said. If organizers miss the December 27 deadline, however, another version of the same measure is circulating with an April 13 deadline--still soon enough to make November's ballot.

Pugno acknowledged fund raising has been modest. "We've been overwhelmed with volunteers offering their time, but it's been hard to raise the funds to keep those volunteers equipped with the supply of petitions needed," he said.

Equality California this year hired the Santa Monica campaign consulting firm of Zimmerman and Markman, which has run successful progressive campaigns such as those for medical marijuana, drug treatment instead of incarceration, and funding for mental health. It also represented during last year's presidential campaign.

As that firm develops a campaign advertising strategy, Equality California is continuing its media outreach, door-to-door voter identification projects, town hall meetings, and visits to other organizations across the state, executive director Geoff Kors said, according to Inside Bay Area. "This is going to be a very expensive, if not the most expensive, campaign our community has ever faced," Kors predicted. "It's hard to envision any statewide campaign in California not being in the $10 million to $15 million range, with the cost of television."

Kors said he'd hope to see Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger "come out strongly against" the measures as a visible campaign force, much as Ronald Reagan campaigned in 1978--after his two terms as governor ended--against a measure that would have barred gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools. But Kors noted the state GOP this year hired Gary Marx, a Virginia strategist who had mobilized Christian conservatives for President Bush's reelection, to help translate conservative support for the parental-notification-of-abortion measure on November's special-election ballot into support for the governor's reform agenda measures.

Marx, after last month's election, said the same-sex-marriage ban could also be an opportunity for Republican synergy; the state GOP remained noncommittal. "It would be hard to believe that the governor would have Susan Kennedy as his chief of staff--and that she would take the job--while still having someone like Gary Marx drumming up fundamentalist support to write discrimination against gay people into the constitution," Kors said.

Kennedy, whom Schwarzenegger appointed last week, married her partner in a 1999 ceremony in Hawaii.

California Republican Party spokeswoman Karen Hanretty said Friday the GOP hasn't taken a position on either of the current proposed ballot measures, although it stands quite clearly against same-sex marriage. Asked whether the party saw the ballot measures either as a liability or an asset in attracting conservatives to the polls as Schwarzenegger seeks reelection next year, Hanretty replied, "We're not taking into consideration the politics of it because nothing's happened yet...they're not our considerations to make. We're not even having those conversations."

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