SACRAMENTO — Creating a new dynamic in the emotional campaign over Proposition 22, a small group of gays and lesbians Thursday declared their support for the March ballot measure that would bar recognition of same-sex marriages in California.
With less than a month to go before election day, five members of Gays for 22 said they don't believe the initiative threatens their rights or way of life, despite allegations to the contrary by opponents in the gay community. They said they view the measure as a matter of states' rights--specifically, California's right to reject as illegal a gay marriage that might someday be performed in another state.
"This initiative is very simple, very straightforward," said Tom Beddingfield, state chairman of Gays for 22. "It doesn't hurt gays and lesbians at all. It's about preventing another state from defining California law."
A spokeswoman for the opposition campaign dismissed Gays for 22 as a tiny fringe group whose comments will have little influence on the fate of the measure.
"We congratulate [our opponents] on putting so many resources into finding the five gay people who support Prop. 22," said the spokeswoman, Tracey Conaty. "It looks to us like a pretty desperate move."
Only 14 words long, Proposition 22 declares that only marriages between a man and a woman are valid. Although that is already the law in California, the family code requires that all marriages legally performed in other states be recognized here. Proposition 22 would create an exception in the code for gay marriages.
No state permits same-sex unions, but the Vermont Legislature is considering it after its state Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to the same benefits as married people.
"California isn't ready for gay marriage," said Beddingfield, a San Jose political consultant. "And we shouldn't let some other state legislature or judge tell us we should have it."
Beddingfield, 24, said he has spent the last few months trying to rally support for his cause, mostly by passing out fliers in San Francisco's Castro district and attending meetings of gay organizations. He said he is acting out of a passion for the issue and is "not being used" by the Yes on Proposition 22 campaign.
So far, his efforts have attracted about 50 members to Gays for 22. Recruitment has been difficult, he said, because he is regarded as a "traitor" by other gays and lesbians.
"We've been yelled at, we've been told we're filled with hate," Beddingfield said. "I'm sure they're going to say we have emotional problems. But we're just people doing what we think is best for California."
Thursday's announcement marks the latest salvo in the increasingly heated debate over Proposition 22. At the state Republican Party convention last weekend, religious leaders caused a stir by calling gay marriage an evil akin to Nazi Germany, and homosexuality evidence of a nation on the brink of collapse.
Backers of Proposition 22 disavowed any connection to the remarks, but the episode prompted an angry outcry. Foes of the ballot measure noted that the initiative's author, state Sen. William "Pete" Knight (R-Palmdale), was a featured speaker at the prayer breakfast where the remarks where made.
Mike Marshall, manager of the No on Knight campaign, said the statements "removed the cloak of moderation in which the Prop. 22 campaign has tried to veil the measure." He called the remarks proof that Proposition 22 is part of a broader effort to roll back gains made by the gay community.
Meanwhile, the list of groups and individuals opposed to the measure continues to grow--but seems to be having little effect on public opinion, polls show.
Among the latest to declare their opposition is a group of moderate Republicans--among them, Ward Connerly, who led the drive to abolish affirmative action, and Rep. Tom Campbell (San Jose), a candidate for U.S. Senate.
In a joint appearance, the Republicans called the measure an unwarranted government intrusion into people's private lives, and Connerly, a UC regent, likened the debate over same-sex marriage to his experience as a black man wed to a white woman.
"The same arguments that I heard then, I hear now: 'This will violate God's law. . . . This will destroy civilization.' None of that has come to pass," Connerly said.
Some of the most emotional discussion of the measure continues to unfold in churches. From the beginning, the initiative has enjoyed support from Roman Catholic bishops, evangelical Christians and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons.
But this week, three Southern California bishops--Episcopal, Lutheran and Methodist--issued a joint statement opposing the measure, which they said could lead to discrimination and restrict "the potential rights and benefits of a particular group of people."