Tuesday, February 26, 2008

'Decline to sign' campaign launched

The Bay Area Reporter Online | 'Decline to sign' campaign launched

by Seth Hemmelgarn

A coalition of groups supporting same-sex marriage is asking for volunteers to help defeat an effort to make same-sex marriage unconstitutional in California.

Equality for All, a coalition of LGBT and allied civil rights groups, is launching a "Decline to Sign" campaign to discourage people from signing petitions that support putting an anti-gay marriage initiative on the November ballot.

The measure would amend the state's constitution to specify marriage can only be between a man and a woman. That effort is being led by California's ProtectMarriage.com and the New Jersey-based National Organization for Marriage, according to Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, which is part of Equality for All.

"We want to make sure people know what they're signing," Kors said. "We want to make sure that people know this would actually write discrimination into the constitution."

Kors said that starting this weekend – Friday, February 22 – volunteers will be sent to locations where paid signature gatherers have been sighted.

Volunteers will attempt to educate people and ask them to sign petitions to show support for same-sex marriage. Kors said volunteers will be told not to engage people in confrontations.

Kors said the coalition estimates there are from 150 to 200 paid signature gatherers in the state, based on talks with people in the signature gathering business. He said there have been reports of people circulating the anti-gay marriage petitions and Equality for All wants people to report such activity when they see signature gatherers. He said the work appears to be most prominent in the Central Valley and Southern California, and he's not aware of any sightings in San Francisco.

Kors said the anti-gay marriage groups need about 1.1 million signatures by mid-April in order to collect the nearly 700,000 valid signatures needed to put the measure before voters. The anti-gay marriage groups have not responded to requests for comment.

If the initiative were successful, it would nullify a positive outcome from the same-sex marriage case that's before the California Supreme Court, should the court rule that the state's marriage laws are unconstitutional.

The court is set to hear oral arguments in the same-sex marriage case on March 4. The consolidated marriage case stems from Mayor Gavin Newsom's action four years ago during which same-sex couples were allowed to wed. The court voided those marriages later in 2004. A San Francisco judge then ruled that the state's marriage laws are unconstitutional, but that a state appellate court overturned that decision, sending the case to the high court.

One of the people behind ProtectMarriage.com is reportedly Gail Knight, the widow of state Senator Pete Knight. Pete Knight authored Proposition 22, which was passed by voters in 2000 and holds that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." That measure is part of the state's family code, not the state constitution.

Kate Kendell is executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and is a member of Equality for All.

"We are very interested in mobilizing folks around the state who, for a long time, have been wanting to help, but between the court cases and legislative action there hasn't been a huge grassroots component – well, this is the time," Kendell said.

She said the effort to keep the initiative off the ballot would be time well spent.

"If it gets on the ballot, the effort to defeat it becomes much more expensive and intensive, so if we could keep it off the ballot, it is impossible to overstate what a tremendous victory that would be," Kendell said.

To volunteer, go to www.equalityforall.com.


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