Friday, November 16, 2007

Groups jousting over gay rights in California > News > State -- Groups jousting over gay rights in California

By Bill Ainsworth
November 12, 2007
SACRAMENTO – In the battle over gay rights, this fall was supposed to be a slow period, almost like a political time-out. Both sides were expected to spend the next few months preparing for a California Supreme Court decision on whether to overturn the state's ban on same-sex marriage.
Instead, it's been anything but quiet.
Gay rights advocates are spending millions of dollars on a television advertising campaign to promote same-sex marriage.
Religious conservatives, meanwhile, have launched a referendum drive to overturn a new law that they say will promote homosexuality in the schools.
Both campaigns illustrate the frustrations and successes each side has experienced.
During the past few years, gay rights advocates have persuaded the Democratic-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to pass many laws expanding protections against discrimination and adding benefits and responsibilities for same-sex registered domestic partners.
This year, Schwarzenegger signed seven of eight bills advocated by Equality California, a leading gay rights group.
But the group's top priority – same-sex marriage – has proven elusive.
Last month, Schwarzenegger vetoed a same-sex marriage bill for the second time in three years, saying that voters or the courts should decide whether to legalize same-sex marriage.
Religious conservatives applauded the governor's action, but they complain about his support for expanding gay rights.
“He's got a split personality,” said Karen England, executive director of the Capitol Resource Institute, which opposes the new gay rights laws. “We are disappointed.”
England's organization and other like-minded groups are trying to overturn the most significant gay rights law signed this year, Senate Bill 777, sponsored by state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica.
The bill received little attention on its journey through the Legislature. It states that “no teacher shall give instruction nor shall a school district sponsor any activity that promotes a discriminatory bias” against people based on sexual orientation.
Social conservatives argue that it opens the door for major changes in school instruction.
“This will mean getting rid of 'mom and dad' in textbooks or adding homosexual couples,” England said.
Seth Kilbourn, political director of Equality California, which sponsored the law, strongly disputed England's interpretation.
Kilbourn said it “clarifies and reinforces existing laws that protect students” against harassment and discrimination.
Placing a statewide referendum on the ballot is a tall order. Opponents must collect more than 400,000 valid signatures by early January. Qualifying an initiative can cost as much as $2 million.
As gay rights advocates keep a wary eye on the referendum drive, they are busy with their own campaign, featuring ads, house parties and a Web site to boost public support for same-sex marriage.
In 2000, Proposition 22, which bans same-sex marriage, won approval from 61 percent of voters.
Polls have shown increasing support for same-sex marriage in recent years. Still, the latest nonpartisan Field Poll showed that 51 percent oppose same-sex marriage, while 43 percent favor it.
Geoff Kors of the Equality California Institute said the campaign can change minds by conveying the distress that same-sex couples suffer from being denied a chance to marry.
“In California, we are really at a tipping point,” Kors said. “People have thought about this intellectually but we want them to think about it emotionally. We want to talk to people about love and commitment.”
The ad his group is broadcasting shows a bride-to-be who just can't seem to make it to the altar. First, she breaks a heel, then is grazed by a tree branch that takes her veil. Finally, she is tripped.
The ad asks, “What if you couldn't marry the person you love? Every day, gay and lesbian couples are prevented from marrying.”
Ron Prentice, president of the California Family Council, which opposes same-sex marriage, questions the effectiveness of the ad.
“When push comes to shove, people really have a discomfort level with giving marriage to the homosexual community,” Prentice said.
Prentice also said that the gay rights advocates realize that the sight of same-sex couples marrying is unpopular. He believes that is the reason the ad features a heterosexual couple.
Kors rejected that view, saying the campaign is targeting heterosexuals to get them thinking what it would be like to be denied the chance to marry.
Opponents of same-sex marriage still are pondering a new ballot measure aimed at strengthening the state's ban. Proposition 22 requires that marriage be between a man and a woman. But because the proposition enacted a statute rather than a constitutional amendment, it is more susceptible to legal challenge.
For the past two years, opponents of same-sex marriage have sought to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot. They have been hobbled by fundraising problems and a split over strategy.
The California Family Council and other groups want a ballot measure focused solely on banning same-sex marriage.
Another organization,, wants an initiative that prohibits same-sex marriage and rolls back rights for same-sex registered domestic partners.
Fundraising for both efforts has fallen short, in part because the ban on same-sex marriage deprives the groups of the sense of urgency that might inspire donations.
Larry Bowler, spokesman for, believes funding will pick up next year because he contends that the state's high court is “highly likely” to allow same-sex marriage next year by overturning Proposition 22.
In an e-mail message, Bowler said that his organization is waiting for a donation of $1 million from a “generous soul who passionately believes in natural marriage between a man and a woman” before it starts gathering signatures.
Prentice said that the California Family Council and other groups are also ready to launch an initiative, if the California Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage.
“Right now, we're in a wait-and-see position,” he said.
Longtime California political analyst Tony Quinn believes that a court decision to legalize same-sex marriage could create a backlash.
Consequently, Quinn argues that the best strategy for proponents of same-sex marriage is to launch a ballot measure campaign in a few years. If polling trends continue, he said, a majority of Californians will favor same-sex marriage.

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