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[COMMENT: If Californians will step up and force the discussion onto homosexual behavior and its terrible consequences, sexual sanity has a chance of winning. Otherwise, we are in for a long, terrible time. E. Fox]
A possible California referendum on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions has pundits predicting an epic battle this November that could end in the approval of same-sex marriage or a massive rollback in relationship recognition.
VoteYesMarriage.com, the group collecting signatures to get the measure on the ballot this fall, has declared that it obtained by the April 28 deadline the 1.1 million signatures needed to bring the issue to voters. The California secretary of state has yet to certify that the signatures are valid and is not expected to make such an announcement until June.
Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, said he is “99 percent certain” that the measure will be on the ballot because VoteYesMarriage.com turned in enough signatures for the secretary of state to start a random check to see if enough are legitimate.
As the secretary of state tabulates the signatures, the California Supreme Court is considering a case in which plaintiffs are seeking the recognition of same-sex marriage in California. The court has a self-imposed deadline of June 2 to make a decision.
If the courts rule in favor of same-sex marriage and the amendment appears on the November ballot, California voters could invalidate the judges’ decision and any marriages entered into by gay couples afterward.
Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, told the Blade that defeating the referendum is the “single most important challenge” facing same-sex marriage supporters this year. The failure of the referendum would put supporters of same-sex marriage “on a glide path to full victory” across the nation, he said.
“If we succeed in blocking this amendment in California, what will follow, in very short order, is marriage in California,” he said.
Wolfson talked about marriage Saturday at an Association of Gay & Lesbian Psychiatrists symposium in Washington.
Activists would not lose everything they’ve accomplished if California voters approve a ban on same-sex marriage, he said.
“Our movement will continue moving forward because of so much else that we have unleashed — the generational momentum of support among young people, the growing recognition of fairness,” he said. “We will not lose all of that, but we will vastly prolong the timeline.”
Kors said the gravity of the amendment fight means that supporters of same-sex marriage face “a mammoth, unprecedented campaign” in defeating the amendment.
“It’s going to take a Herculean effort to win, but this is winnable,” he said. “We believe California voters will reject this politics of division and hate that we think voters around the country are sick and tired of.”
Marty Rouse, Human Rights Campaign’s national field director, called defeating the California initiative “one of the most important efforts that will impact the future of GLBT equality for our country for many years.”
“Our entire community — not just in California, but across the entire country — must pay attention and get motivated to support the effort to defeat this amendment,” he said.
Conservative groups agree that the California marriage amendment will have a significant impact on the marriage debate throughout the United States.
Tom Minnery, vice president of Focus on the Family, said the measure would have particular importance if California judges rule in favor of same-sex marriage.
“If the Supreme Court rules against the traditional definition of marriage, that will reverberate nationwide and that will make the California amendment all the more significant,” he said.
Matt Barber, policy director for cultural issues at the Concerned Women for America, said initiatives in California and elsewhere indicate that, “a majority of Americans recognize the fact that legitimate marriage and family are cornerstones of a healthy society.”
“Reasonable people have had enough and are refusing to allow radical extremists to redefine marriage and family into oblivion,” he said. “So-called ‘same-sex marriage’ is a ridiculous and oxymoronic notion that has been forced into popular lexicon by homosexual activists who want to dress up and play house.”
Kors expects that the supporters and opponents of the California amendment will together raise more money for their campaigns than they have for any other ballot initiative in the country’s history related to gay issues. More than 40 gay organizations are working together to defeat the amendment, he said.
Some recent trends in California politics auger well for the defeat of the amendment, Kors said. He noted that the California Legislature voted in favor of separate bills legalizing same-sex marriage 2005 and 2007, only to have the legislation vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R). And last month, despite his earlier vetoes, Schwarzenegger said he would “always be there to fight against” the amendment.
Wolfson told the Blade that the California measure is beatable if same-sex marriage supporters put enough effort into defeating the amendment.
“We must raise a lot of money and we must do that really quickly because the single most precious resource we have in defeating that measure is time,” he said.
Kors said polling data show that California voters “are in a dead heat” on whether or not they would approve an amendment banning same-sex marriage this fall.
California is not the only state that could consider an amendment banning same-sex marriage this fall. Such a measure will be on the ballot in Florida, where it requires approval from at least 60 percent of voters to become part of the state constitution. Observers also expect that Arizona voters will face an amendment this fall.
Wolfson said defeating the anti-gay measures in any of those states is important because state constitutions “should not be abused to enforce prejudice and to exclude people.”
Dan Pinello, a gay City University of New York government professor, said right-wing groups often try to get these measures on the ballot to mobilize the electorate to vote for conservative candidates while they’re at the polls. The problem with this strategy is that conservatives are running out of states in which to pull this trick, Pinello said, noting that 26 states already have bans on same-sex marriage in their state constitutions.
This may be the agenda for conservatives who put the amendment on the ballot in Florida — a state that has a history of being competitive in presidential elections, he said. Pinello said Florida would likely go to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), regardless of whether a marriage initiative is on the ballot because the state has trended Republican in recent years.
Amendments in California and Arizona would have less of an impact on the presidential election, Pinello said. California is a strong Democratic state and Arizona is the home state and probably an easy win for McCain.
Minnery said McCain needs to express his support for the amendments if he wants conservative voters to vote for him as they vote for the measures.
“I think people who favor traditional issues would think more favorably of McCain if he were to make this one of his issues,” he said.
Various other states this year have taken action on amendments that would ban same-sex marriage. The Pennsylvania Senate considered such an amendment, but the senator sponsoring the measure withdrew it from consideration Monday when it became clear that the Democratic-controlled House would not schedule the initiative for timely consideration.
A group in Illinois was also collecting signatures to get an amendment on the ballot. The group, however, did not submit any signatures by the May 5 deadline.
The state legislatures in Iowa and North Carolina are also considering similar amendments. Those legislatures are not expected to approve the measures.
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