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Gay Couple Speak Out Against Measure


SACRAMENTO — Pat and Shannon have been together 16 years, raising two children in a relationship that feels very much like marriage to them.

But both Pat and Shannon happen to be female. And in California--as in every other state--that means they cannot legally wed.

On Wednesday, the Redondo Beach couple toured the state to put their faces before voters wrestling with Proposition 22. Their message: Are we really a threat in an era of rampant divorce and TV shows that make a mockery of the pledge, "I do?"

"After 16 years, Pat and I are still strangers before the law," said Shannon Keating, an executive with Twentieth Television, a division of Fox. "We're already labeled with second-class status. . . . Proposition 22 is like nailing the coffin shut."

Written by a conservative state senator, Proposition 22 would prevent California from recognizing same-sex marriages if they ever become legal in another state. Foes say it also could erode antidiscrimination laws and other protections for gays and lesbians.

The couple's appearance at four news conferences Wednesday symbolizes a new strategy by managers of the No on 22 campaign. Previously, they sought to downplay the gay marriage theme to woo voters opposed to such unions.

But polls show that despite a recent flurry of anti-22 ads, Californians still favor the initiative by a solid margin. A new Los Angeles Times poll found that 57% of likely voters support it, while 36% are opposed and 7% are undecided.

"It became clear to us that because of all the initiatives and how taxing it is to be a voter in California, we had to . . . be very forceful" and declare that Proposition 22 will hurt gays and lesbians, said Mike Marshall, manager of the No on 22 campaign.

To help hammer home that message, foes of the initiative released a dramatic new television ad saying that its passage will promote anti-gay violence.

Featuring footage of protesters with signs reading "God Hates Fags," the ad is meant to jolt voters into realizing the initiative promotes hate despite its "veneer of moderation," Marshall said.

A spokesman for the Yes on 22 campaign said the ad, which began airing statewide Tuesday night, is a desperate tactic that is "grossly offensive and inflammatory."

"Desperate campaigns often go over the top and this late attack is a vicious 30-second lie," said spokesman Robert Glazier. He added that the pro-22 campaign has denounced anti-gay extremist groups at every opportunity and said they are not a threat in California.

The protest featured in the ad occurred at the funeral of a gay college student in Wyoming who was murdered because of his sexual orientation. But California also has seen such violence, including the 1999 murder of a prominent gay couple in Redding; two brothers have been charged, one of whom allegedly confessed that he acted because he believes homosexuality violates God's law.

"I wish we could learn from history," said Shannon Keating. "Talk to African Americans . . . and Jews who survived concentration camps and know the pain of being branded with the star. . . . What did it lead to?"

The Yes on 22 campaign also began airing a new ad Wednesday, its fifth. The spot depicts a woman declaring that while gays and lesbians should be free to choose their own relationships, "they shouldn't have the right to redefine marriage for everybody else."

While simple, the ad contains a suggestion that a vote against 22 would lead to a redefinition of marriage. In fact, if the initiative fails March 7, gay marriage will remain illegal on March 8.

Keating and her partner, Pat Alford-Keating, said their distress over Proposition 22 has spurred them to do all they can to defeat it. Last month, they went door-to-door and talked with neighbors about the initiative--and what they describe as their very normal lives.

Specifically, they spoke of their children--a son in the Navy and a daughter who is a college music major in Florida--and remembered how Alford-Keating served as PTA president while Keating coached Little League.

They also noted that they are planning their daughter's June wedding--to a man--and are delighting in the details of that event.

On a more serious note, the women said that being deprived of the legal right to wed deprives them of benefits many married couples take for granted.

"These benefits run the gamut from having access to a family membership at the local health club, to attaining medical care for a family member in need," they wrote in a form letter to neighbors. Their unmarried status has hurt them financially in the purchase of a home and retirement planning as well, they said.

The women said that while going door-to-door was a scary experience, many neighbors began to share their views of Proposition 22. Less encouraging was the reaction of friends to whom they tried to give a No on 22 lawn sign.

"They were afraid to put them in their yard for fear of retribution," said Alford-Keating, a psychologist for student psychological services at UCLA.

Theft of signs has been reported by both sides in the campaign. The worst episode involved the burning of more than 30 pro-22 signs at a Bay Area church.

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