Petitions to circulate for statewide marriage amendment


SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Protect Marriage, a broad-based coalition supporting traditional marriage in California, has launched its second attempt at getting a constitutional amendment on the state's June 2008 ballot.

Peter Henderson, chairman of Protect Marriage, said a petition—under review by the state Attorney General's office—was released to the group July 17.

"We want to give them one more chance to protect marriage," Henderson said.

The Protect Marriage petition is emerging just as a Pew Research Poll showed that support for same-sex marriage nationwide has dropped over the past year. According to its findings, the Pew study shows 57 percent of the public is now opposed.

Gary Bauer, chairman of Campaign for Working Families, a Washington, D.C.-based traditional-family lobby group, said in his daily newsletter that the survey, released July 1, also shows that  "support for civil unions, which entail giving same-sex couples all the legal benefits of marriage without using the actual word 'marriage,' has also declined to below 50 percent. 

If at least 700,000 valid signatures are gathered by Thanksgiving, the amendment, tentatively named the California Marriage Protection Act, would appear on the June ballot.

It would read "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. This provision shall not affect the rights, benefits and obligations conferred by California Law on other domestic relationships."

Henderson said the amendment is needed to protect the will of the state's voters who, in 2000, by approving Proposition 22, declared marriage as only between one man and one woman. Since its passage, the bill has been tied up in legal challenges and is under review by the state Supreme Court. Opponents of the measure appealed the matter to the state's highest court after the California Appeals Court upheld the proposition last fall.

Expanding rights
In the seven years since Proposition 22 was approved, state legislators have continued to snub voters by expanding homosexual rights.

"Since that time, the legislature has been passing and signing bills that grant marriage rights for domestic partnerships that were traditionally reserved for one man and one woman," the group's chairman said.

Henderson said the subsequent erosion of the traditional family, coupled with the uncertainty of how the court might rule on Proposition 22, underscores the need for an amendment before even more pro-gay rights are granted.

"California has some of the strongest protection for domestic partnerships in the nation," Henderson said.

As a result, Protect Marriage has conducted intensive polls on voters to determine which language has the most change of success at the ballot box. They discovered voters wanted to protect the traditional nature of marriage without being punitive.

"With statewide polling of high-propensity voters—of those most likely to vote—it's clear they are wanting to uphold the language of Proposition 22 and any other language that takes away the legal rights of domestic partnership failed miserably," he said.

Without releasing specific numbers, Henderson said the group's polling suggested that only one-third of voters would support a complete withdrawal of already-granted rights.

"We have clear and convincing evidence on what is doable," he said. "To my knowledge no other organization has come up with that data."

Taking a different approach
His argument, however, is dismissed by Randy Thomasson, president of Campaign for Children and Families, a longtime activist against homosexual rights and one of the chief proponents of The Voters' Right to Protect Marriage Initiative, which is also supported by former assemblyman Larry Bowler.

Bowler said the recent advancement of two measures offering up more rights for same-sex couples, including AB 43, which OKs same-sex marriage, points to the need for permanent reform.

 "Marriage rights are for marriage, and marriage is for one man and one woman," he said. "The voters understand this, but politicians and judges don't. It's high time for the people to override the judges and politicians and protect marriage rights once and for all for one man and one woman. The only initiative that will accomplish is the rock-solid amendment.

Like Protect Marriage, they have also qualified for a petition drive seeking to put a counter measure on the ballot. Unlike Protect Marriage, however, the Vote Yes plan would strip all existing benefits granted to same-sex couples through the state legislature. This is the second time both groups have offered competing measures at the same time.

To help its cause, the Vote Yes Marriage group is running radio advertisements up and down the state seeking donations to help pay for the signature drive.

Chances of success
Henderson said that while the concept of Vote Yes Marriage is noble and, in a perfect world there would be no domestic partnership rights, it does little good to hold out for the all-or-nothing approach if voters will not approve the concept. In the meantime, more and more domestic partnership rights are being granted.

"Unless California acts now to protect marriage, there will be a continual onslaught by the liberals to changed the legal status of who qualifies for marriage," Henderson said.

To qualify for the ballot, both measures will need to secure 700,000, meaning at least one million are need to cushion for invalid or duplicate signatures.

Henderson said his group is planning to use both professional and grassroots assistance in qualifying their amendment.

 "The grassroots support is greater than it was two years ago," he said, adding that measure failed to garner enough signatures to qualify. "The largest hurdle, as with most ballot initiatives, is financial, raising the money needed to get something on the ballot.

"We've worked very hard at introducing ourselves and convincing people what the people in California are willing to support."

Henderson said he believes the local networks developed during the previous petition drive, coupled with the broad-based coalition, will help to propel the Protect Marriage amendment.