Supporters of Proposition 8, the proposed state constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage, said they would file suit today to block a change made by California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown to the language of the measure's ballot title and summary.
Petitions circulated to qualify the initiative for the ballot said the measure would amend the state Constitution "to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."
In a move made public last week and applauded by same-sex marriage proponents, the attorney general's office changed the language to say that Proposition 8 seeks to "eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry."
Jennifer Kerns, spokeswoman for the Protect Marriage coalition, called the new language "inherently argumentative" and said it could "prejudice voters against the initiative."
Proponents of the measure said they want voters to see ballot language similar to what was on the petitions that began circulating last fall.
"This is a complete about-face from the ballot title that was assigned" when the measure was being circulated for signatures, Kerns said.
On the other side, Steve Smith, campaign manager for No on Proposition 8, applauded the language change.
"What Proposition 8 would do is eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry, which is exactly what the attorney general put in the title of the measure," he said. "It will be very difficult for them to win the case."
Political analysts on both sides suggest that the language change will make passage of the initiative more difficult, noting that voters might be more reluctant to pass a measure that makes clear it is taking away existing rights.
The dust-up reflects the fierce battle being waged over the question of same-sex marriage in California, the most closely-watched social issue that will appear on the November ballot.
And it has raised suspicion in some circles that Brown, a possible candidate for governor in 2010, was influenced by politics.
"He is delivering something . . . that is very important to the gay community, and that is a title and summary that is more likely to lead you to vote 'No,' " said political analyst Tony Quinn.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who became a hero to the gay and lesbian community in 2004 when he officiated same-sex marriages that were later invalidated by the state, is also exploring a run for governor.
Quinn added that language changes that substantive are "highly unusual."
Gareth Lacy, a spokesman for the attorney general, denied that there was any political motivation for the move.
Instead, he said, the change was necessary because of the dramatic turn of events that have taken place since the petitions were circulated: namely that the California Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage and thousands of gay couples have since wed.
"The title and summary accurately reflect the measure," Lacy said.
He noted that language in titles and summaries often changes between the time a measure is circulated for signatures and when it appears on the ballot.
In another change, the revised language predicts a loss to state and local governments of tens of millions of dollars in sales tax revenues over the next few years if the measure passes. But the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office said that in the long run there would "likely be little fiscal impact."