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Gay-rights coalition urges measured pace on same-sex marriage amendment

Organizations say pushing for a California ballot measure in 2010 would be 'rushed and risky.' Some also fear the effort may divert critical funding from social-service programs.

July 14, 2009|Jessica Garrison

Despite insisting just a few months ago that they wanted to go back to the ballot in 2010 to try to amend the state Constitution to allow same-sex marriage, many of the state's gay-rights groups now say that is too soon.

They worry about raising the millions of dollars needed to run a campaign and suggest that the job of changing enough voters' minds on same-sex marriage might take longer than 12 months.

"Going back to the ballot . . . in 2010 would be rushed and risky," read a joint statement issued Monday by three gay-rights groups and signed by more than two dozen other groups and individuals. "We should proceed with a costly, demanding, and high-stakes electoral campaign of this sort only when we are confident we can win."

Jim Key, spokesman for the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, also worried that a 2010 political campaign might tap the same donors that service organizations rely on to fund HIV care, services for homeless youths and other programs at a time when, because of the economy, those programs are needed the most.

Other gay leaders vociferously disagreed.

"There is a majority of the community . . . that favors going forward in 2010," said John Henning, executive director of the pro-same-sex-marriage group Love Honor Cherish. "The fact that some favor waiting should mean only one thing: They can wait, if they need to wait, but we are going to go ahead."

Henning said his group along with a coalition of others is exploring introducing ballot language that could be filed with the secretary of state's office in the fall.

Opponents of same-sex marriage, meanwhile, have said that the whole discussion is inappropriate given that California voters have approved bans on gay and lesbian weddings twice in the last decade.

In the days after Proposition 8 banned same-sex marriage in California last fall, many grass-roots activists almost immediately began planning to get the question back on the ballot. In the spring, as states such as Iowa and Vermont legalized gay marriage, gay and lesbian activists said momentum was on their side.

But now many activists say they are trying to make the political calculations necessary to ensure victory -- which means enough money to wage a campaign and enough voter outreach to persuade some who voted against gay and lesbian unions to change their minds.

"We initially said we believe 2010 was the right time to go back to the ballot," said Marc Solomon, marriage director for Equality California, one of the state's biggest gay-rights groups. But he added: "We've also made it very clear we will only move forward if we have a clear road map to victory. . . . The last thing we want to do is go back to the ballot and lose."

He said his group has sought advice from political consultants and polling experts and would present it publicly later this month.

Ron Buckmire, president of the Barbara Jordan/Bayard Rustin Coalition, one of the groups that signed the statement issued Monday, said the need for more time was made clear to him this weekend when his group went door to door to talk to voters about same-sex marriage in South Los Angeles.

"It was a huge success. We had 70 volunteers, working for five hours, knocked on 1,200 doors," he said. After all that, they identified only 50 voters who moved in their direction.

"We have to move 300,000 voters," he said. "Do the math."

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jessica.garrison@latimes.com

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