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Gays Differ Sharply Over Their Next Steps

Some call for seeking expanded rights through the Legislature, while others want a same-sex marriage measure on the fall ballot.


SACRAMENTO — Gays throughout California on Wednesday bemoaned the passage of Proposition 22 but disagreed sharply over how best to focus their energies now that voters have rejected same-sex marriage.

Some argued for a full-court press in the Legislature, where several bills would build on the few benefits that now exist for domestic partners.

Others scorned an incremental approach, saying gays should instead throw their hearts into an effort to qualify an initiative for the November ballot to permit same-sex marriage.

Most seemed to agree on one thing: Fighting Proposition 22, while emotionally draining, fortified their drive to win full equality, including--someday--the right to say, "I do."

"We're stronger and more galvanized than ever before," said Gwen Baldwin, executive director of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center.

"It's a bump in the road for us," added Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), "but the road goes on."

Although they found the overall message sent by the popularity of Proposition 22 distressing, gay leaders said there was cause for hope lurking in the tea leaves scattered by Tuesday's balloting.

Two lesbians seeking seats in the state Assembly--including Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg--cleared their primary election hurdles and look like solid bets for November. A third, Kuehl, is poised to advance to the state Senate, which has never had an openly gay member.

"The more we're able to increase [gay] representation in public life, the better we're able to stand up to any discrimination that may come in the wake of Prop. 22," said Brian Bond, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which works to elect homosexual candidates.

Gays also took heart from an election analysis showing that although voters 65 and older heartily supported Proposition 22, those under 45 were closely split on the issue.

"With the new generation, the walls of prejudice are being shattered," said Assemblywoman Carole Migden (D-San Francisco), one of two openly gay legislators. "It's hard to be jubilant today, but the time will come."

Although gay marriage was already illegal before Proposition 22 passed, the measure closed a loophole that would have required California to recognize same-sex unions if they were ever sanctioned elsewhere.

Unofficial election results showed Proposition 22 winning 61% to 39%. Only four counties defeated it--Marin, San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Sonoma. And a Los Angeles Times exit poll showed that voters embraced the measure regardless of their ethnicity or gender.

The initiative's sponsor, state Sen. William "Pete" Knight (R-Palmdale), called the breadth of support "a mandate" in favor of reserving marriage for couples of the opposite sex.

"It's sad that we even had to place this issue on the ballot," Knight said, but "the gay activists' aggressive moves to legalize marriage between two men, or two women, forced us to take a stand."

Gay lawyers said the concept underlying the initiative could someday be vulnerable to a legal challenge on numerous grounds, including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. No suit can be filed now, however, because there is no injured party.

"Since gay marriage is illegal everywhere, there is no one with legal standing to bring a case" against California's law, said Jon Davidson, supervising attorney for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund in Los Angeles.

Davidson said the issue of "what we do now" is an unsettled one for the gay community. For some, the priority is expanding benefits for domestic partners, who in January won the right to enroll in a state registry--an act that for many marks the first official acknowledgment of their relationships.

California has been a pioneer in domestic partnership policies, with 12 cities and four counties granting health benefits to partners, and the state requiring hospitals to give partners visitation rights. But such benefits fall far short of the roughly 1,000 that a federal study found are associated with marriage.

Three bills introduced in the Legislature this year would begin to close the gap, granting domestic partners the ability to make medical decisions for each other if one is incapacitated and the right to inherit property from a partner who dies without a will.

But their passage is far from assured. A Kuehl bill barring discrimination against gays in schools squeaked out by just one vote last year, and some predict that Proposition 22's success will make lawmakers even more squeamish about legislation deemed pro-gay.

"It has always been a struggle," Migden said, "and it will continue to be a struggle."

Some gays, meanwhile, are growing impatient with the inch-by-inch march toward equality and advocate a bolder strategy. West Hollywood City Councilman Steve Martin said that in the past, gays "in self-appointed leadership positions" have urged that "we choose our battles carefully and stay away from the issue of marriage because it's too divisive.'

Martin, however, believes that marriage is "the last bastion" and must be strongly pursued. "We're going to lay siege and storm the castle," he said.

Tom Henning, a San Francisco physics teacher, is with him all the way. In the thick of the Proposition 22 campaign, he launched an effort to qualify a same-sex marriage measure for the November ballot.

Lacking the money to hire professional signature gatherers, Henning is relying on volunteers. So far, he's collected just 100,000 signatures--a fraction of the roughly 1 million he needs by April 20. But he hopes the passage of Proposition 22 will deliver a fresh batch of eager foot soldiers to his door.

"I think it's hard to make an argument for domestic partnerships, because deep in their hearts, marriage is what people really want," Henning said. "Our love, our commitment, it's all identical to the love between heterosexuals. Why should we compromise?"


Times staff writer Sue Fox and correspondent Monte Morin contributed to this story.

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