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Same-sex marriage activists seek repeal of California's Prop. 8

They’re gathering signatures for the 2010 ballot. Others want to wait until the 2012 presidential election when there’ll be a larger turnout – including young voters more likely to support same-sex marriage.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / September 26, 2009

Protesters during a Meet in the Middle 4 Equality rally in Fresno, Calif. on May 30. Activists hope to win repeal of Proposition 8, which amended the California Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. They’ll gather signatures for a ballot measure reversing Prop. 8, which was approved last year by a slim majority.

Gary Kazanjian/AP/File

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Los Angeles

The battle is on to repeal California’s Prop. 8 -- which activists hope starts a national domino effect in the nearly 30 states that have banned same-sex marriage.

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A coalition of 40 groups has taken the first legal step for voters to be able to overturn the measure in November 2010. Thursday, the groups submitted ballot language that will place the measure on the ballot in the state’s next general election. Within weeks they intend to be canvassing the state to gather 700,000 valid signatures needed by April to qualify the measure for the ballot.

The proposed measure will read, in part: "To provide for fairness in the government's issuance of marriage licenses, Section 7.5 of Article I of the California Constitution is hereby amended to read as follows: Marriage is between only two persons and shall not be restricted on the basis of race, color, creed, ancestry, national origin, sex, gender, sexual orientation or religion."

Prop. 8 was an amendment to the California Constitution passed by voters in November, 2008, which reversed a California Supreme Court decision in May, 2008. The court had held that same-sex couples were guaranteed equal marriage rights under the California Constitution. The measure passed so narrowly -- with just 52 percent of the vote -- that activists feel a simple change in language, along with the momentum of hurt and anger that still lingers, will be enough to pass the initiative.

“We feel the time absolutely should be now,’ says John Henning, executive director of Love Honor Cherish, the grass-roots group which is leading the effort. “Every day that goes by there is some elderly person who wants to but can’t get married now. Kids are growing up and being told they can’t get married. That’s just wrong and we need to change that as soon as possible. We need to get our rights back.”

A different group, Equality California (EQCA) -- one of the state’s largest gay-rights groups -- announced in August that it would wait until 2012 to try to ask voters to repeal the measure. They feel that a high turnout of young voters who are more likely to support same-sex marriage would more likely happen in the 2012 presidential election, and therefore it would be more strategically sound to wait until then.

“We feel we will be much more ready and much more likely to prevail at the ballot in 2012, and we are working tirelessly towards that outcome with our coalition partners,” said EQCA’s Mark Solomon in a statement.

The 40 groups supporting the earlier initiative include the Los Angeles Chapter of Stonewall Democrats, the Latino Equality Alliance, the Mexican American Bar Association and the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality. For many, the campaign is as much about equal rights for everyone as it is about gay marriage.

“As attorneys, we are well aware of the times in earlier decades when there was an inability of blacks and whites to marry,” says Mario Trujillo, president of the Mexican American Bar Association, the largest ethnic bar association in California. “We feel this situation with same-sex marriage is synonymous with those times. That’s why this is about equal rights, not just gay rights.”

The new initiative would amend an existing section of the California Constitution.
Mr. Henning says that a poll done by David Binder Associates in San Francisco -- paid for in part by Love Honor Cherish -- finds that the inclusion of a few sentences would result in a 50-42 percent win for the new initiative. That wording reads:

Section 1: “To protect religious freedom, no court shall interpret this measure to require any priest, minister, pastor, rabbi or other person authorized to perform marriages by any religious denomination, church or other non-profit religious institution to perform any marriage in violation of his or her religious beliefs. The refusal to perform a marriage under this provision shall not be the basis for a lawsuit or liability and shall not affect the tax-exempt status of any religious denomination, church or other religious institution.”

“Many churches would love to perform same-sex marriage, but we all agree that if someone else’s doesn’t want to, they shouldn’t be forced by law or courts,” says Henning. “The First Amendment already gives this protection, but people feel better with the language in here, so we’re giving it to them.”

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