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'06 Ballot Is a Goal for Foes of Gay Marriage

Wary of legislation allowing same-sex matrimony, opponents aim for an initiative.

April 27, 2005|Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Opponents of gay marriage vowed Tuesday to outlaw such unions with a ballot measure next spring, saying the issue will not be resolved in the Legislature.

The foes said lawmakers, who minutes earlier had advanced a bill to legalize marriage between same-sex couples, were out of step with most Californians.

If the Legislature votes to allow gay marriage, said Randy Thomasson, president of the Campaign for Children and Families, it "will ignite the majority of Californians" to support a constitutional amendment that would "override the politicians."

Thomasson said opponents hope to put an initiative before voters by June 2006 and end lawmakers' attempts to sanction same-sex unions. Thomasson offered no details on who would pay for a signature-gathering effort to qualify such a measure for the ballot. But he said his group is already studying language that would amend California's constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Voters five years ago passed Proposition 22, which said that only marriage between a man and woman is valid in California. But Thomasson said a tougher measure is needed.

"We need marriage protection in the constitution," he said.

Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), whose bill would redefine marriage in state law as a civil contract between two persons, acknowledged that his legislation wouldn't end the debate even if it became law.

"It will finally be decided at the Supreme Court level," Leno told the Assembly Judiciary Committee. "But we are legislators, and when I as a legislator see injustice in my state, it's my job to create new legislation, and that's what we're doing here today."

Leno and his supporters portrayed his bill as a civil-rights issue. Assemblyman John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) noted that in the 1880s, California voters overwhelmingly chose not to let Chinese Americans own land.

"If you were in the Legislature at the time," said Laird, "would you have said we have to respect the will of the people, or would you stand up for the justice in making sure that was overturned? And the courts and the people later did exactly that."

The Democrats who dominate the committee passed Leno's bill, AB 19, on a 6-3 vote, overriding Republican arguments that the bill thwarts voters' will.

Assemblyman Tom Harman (R-Huntington Beach) said he believes Leno's bill violates a state constitutional requirement that only voters, not lawmakers, can amend law created by initiative.

"So you're going to have to go back to the people or you're going to have to go to court," Harman told Leno. "You frankly should not be here with this bill today because I believe it's ... a violation of a constitutional mandate."

Leno argues that Proposition 22 simply prohibits California from recognizing same-sex marriages performed outside California. The Legislature retains the authority to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry within California, he said.

State courts are now wrestling with the issue. In March, the San Francisco Superior Court ruled that current marriage law discriminates against gay couples. The ruling, which would void Proposition 22, does not take effect pending appeal.

Leno's bill is expected to face a vigorous debate and narrow vote on the Assembly floor in a month or two. Leno withdrew a similar bill last year for lack of support.

Margita Thompson, a spokeswoman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, offered no position on the bill Tuesday. She said the governor believes marriage is between a man and a woman, but supports domestic partnerships for same-sex couples.

"Right now the issue is before the courts," she said, "which is where it should be. We'll have to wait and see what the ultimate resolution is there."

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Staff writer Peter Nicholas contributed to this report.

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