Anti-gay initiative drive back on
by Seth Hemmelgarn
After several months of apparent inactivity, one of the proposed anti-gay marriage state constitutional amendments may be gathering steam and could be headed for the November ballot.
Equality for All, a coalition of LGBT and other civil rights groups, is preparing to fight the possible initiative. Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, which is part of Equality for All, said the National Organization for Marriage and ProtectMarriage.com are working to promote the measure.
Signature gatherers have been spotted by people out in the field, Kors told the Bay Area Reporter Tuesday, January 29.
He said the measure's supporters have raised over $350,000 so far, and he said signatures are being collected in the Sacramento and Central Valley areas, as well as in Southern California. Kors said there isn't "extensive visibility" yet and that he wasn't aware of signatures being gathered in the Bay Area.
Kors said the anti-gay groups need about 1.1 million signatures by April 21 in order to collect the nearly 700,000 valid signatures needed to put the measure before voters.
Kors said he and others just learned of the group's efforts last week, and are working to develop plans of their own.
"We're gearing up," Kors said. "We have a campaign consultant, and we're going to do everything we can to defeat it."
He said they plan on "raising a lot of money and bringing in more volunteers than we've ever brought in."
As it appears on ProtectMarriage.com's Web site, the proposed initiative reads: "LIMIT ON MARRIAGE. CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. Amends the California Constitution to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: The measure would have no fiscal effect on state or local governments. This is because there would be no change to the manner in which marriages are currently recognized by the state. (Initiative 07-0068.)"
Neither the National Organization for Marriage nor ProtectMarriage.com responded to requests for comment.
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.
A statement appears on ProtectMarriage.com that quotes spokesman Ron Prentice mentioning the signature drive. "The coalition continues to grow in membership and to raise funds to be prepared for action in response to any event that threatens traditional marriage."
The California Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments this spring on the consolidated marriage case that stems from Mayor Gavin Newsom's action nearly four years ago during which same-sex couples were allowed to wed. Those marriages were voided by the court later in 2004. A San Francisco judge then ruled that the state's marriage laws are unconstitutional, but that decision was overturned by a state appellate court, sending the case to the high court.
Letter to Arnold
In other gay marriage news, Californians are being asked to sign an open online letter requesting that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger tell the state Supreme Court the current state law "is unconstitutional and that all loving couples deserve the freedom to marry."
The letter is part of the Let California Ring campaign, a coalition of organizations led by the Equality California Institute.
Seth Kilbourn, the institute's policy director, said it's important for people to sign the letter and encourage others to do the same.
Kilbourn said since the governor is a defendant in the case, "What he says and doesn't say is critical."
But Therese Stewart, chief deputy city attorney who's arguing the marriage case on behalf of the city, said she'd be surprised if Schwarzenegger followed the suggestion, noting briefs have already been filed on the governor's behalf that hold the state's law is constitutional. The city is a plaintiff in the case.
"[Schwarzenegger] would be reversing a position he's already taken in court. That said, more shocking things have happened," Stewart said.
Sabrina Lockhart, Schwarzenegger's deputy press secretary, indicated the governor wasn't going to try to intervene at this point.
"The people spoke when they passed Proposition 22, and the court has upheld that vote as constitutional," Lockhart said. "The governor respects the court's decision as this issue works its way through the legal process."
Kilbourn said showing support is crucial to changing the governor's mind. On January 28 â€“ about two weeks after the letter campaign started â€“ he said that just over 8,000 people had signed it. Kilbourn said the coalition is hoping for "tens of thousands" of people to sign. He said it's important for people to sign before Valentine's Day next month.
Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which is part of Let California Ring, said, "We're really hoping [Schwarzenegger] will begin speaking up in favor of marriage equality in whatever form that is necessary and required."
In an e-mail to the Bay Area Reporter , James Vaughn, California and western region director for the LGBT group Log Cabin Republicans, questioned the strategy.
"A strong show of support for marriage is great," he wrote. However, he added, "Political activism isn't an unlimited resource, our community should spend our political capital wisely ... If they had a campaign to attend Republican events to (calmly and rationally) try to talk to Republican rank and file voters about marriage they might get a lot further."
Kilbourn said by "getting as many people involved in this effort as possible," the open letter campaign is the right move.
"That's how public opinion gets changed," he said. "It's worth expending the political capital to do that."
Kilbourn also said that through Let California Ring, 100 house parties have been held across the state so far. Through the events, people who are "on the fence" about the issue are included in discussions about same-sex marriage. He said people aren't asked about their party affiliation.
Kilbourn said about 125,000 people have indicated their support for the freedom to marry through the Let California Ring campaign, including people who were reached before the campaign officially launched with a Web site and TV ad last fall.
Kors said the Let California Ring and Equality for All campaigns are separate.
Asked about the possibility of the Let California Ring campaign being geared toward obtaining people's contact information in order to solicit money, Kilbourn said the institute frequently contacts people in order to share opportunities for them to get involved, whether it's holding a house party or buying a T-shirt.
"One way to get involved, certainly, is to donate to the campaign," he said.
Kilbourn said $3 million has been raised so far, including money raised before September. He wouldn't state the campaign's budget, but said the group plans to expand its efforts to reach out to the 38 million people in California.
"We have our work cut out for us," he said.