In Calif., Both Sides Gear Up for Gay Marriage Battle

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Even as California prepares for an expected rush of same-sex couples exchanging vows starting Monday, opponents to gay marriage in the state say the battle isn't over.

They are rallying behind a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would overturn the recent California Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage and would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The measure, called the California Marriage Amendment, is on the November ballot and needs just a simple majority to pass.

Gay and lesbian activists are working to defeat the amendment. At a recent strategy session, the focus was on campaign basics: fundraising, media and endorsements. The supporters of gay marriage in California included more than two dozen representatives from religious and civil rights organizations.

"All civil rights groups understand that fundamental rights — like the freedom to marry the person you love, freedom of religion, freedom of speech — those shouldn't be on the ballot," says Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, a gay civil rights lobby. "And I think ultimately Californians don't think government should be telling anyone who to marry."

On the other side, the California Marriage Amendment is backed by a coalition of national religious and social conservative groups.

"This is a response to the judicial activism of four of the justices on the California Supreme Court," says Matthew Staver, founder of the Florida-based Liberty Counsel. "In fact, the California Supreme Court has given a strong impetus to actually passing this particular amendment. I think in California, for example, the people will have the final say on marriage."

Eight years ago, gay marriage was on the ballot, and 61 percent of California voters rejected it. Staver says he's confident that will happen again.

But if recent polls are any indication, California voters are now almost evenly divided. The outcome of the November initiative looks to be a nail-biter for both sides.

Republican political analyst Allan Hoffenblum says the ballot question is too close to call because the issue won't break down along traditional liberal versus conservative lines.

"This is not a Republican versus Democratic issue," Hoffenblum says. "A key area of the Democratic coalition here in California are Latino voters and African-American voters. But all surveys have shown among those who are most against gay marriage, it is African-Americans and Latinos."

On the other hand, Hoffenblum says many white and upper-income voters, even within Republican circles, tend to be more tolerant of same-sex marriage.

Corey Cook, who teaches politics at the University of San Francisco, says gay marriage advocates are hoping the weddings of the coming days and weeks will put a human face on the issue.

"This time, people will be voting on whether the marriages that will have happened in California over 4 1/2 months should remain valid or not," Cook says. "And it's a very different question in that it involves the lives of real people who will have been married, legally married, in California."

The battle over the California Marriage Amendment is likely to be an expensive one, too, with both sides predicting they will need to raise at least $15 million to compete.

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