Signature drive meets goal as Gov. Schwarzenegger chides effort for marriage amendment


SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The coalition sponsoring a constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage was expected to turn in close to 1.1 million signatures to county registrars of voters April 24.

The culmination of the petition signature drive came just two weeks after California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told a group of gay Republicans that the petition effort was a "waste of time."

"I think we need a constitutional amendment so that foreign-born citizens can run for president, but not about gay marriage," Schwarzenegger joked during his April 11 address before the Log Cabin Republicans' San Diego convention.

His comments drew the ire of Christian conservatives who have been working since the fall to get the marriage amendment on the November ballot. The group needs nearly 700,000 valid signatures to qualify the measure.

Many conservative political observers were surprised by his comments, citing his earlier pledges to let the people decide the fate of traditional marriage in California.

Aaron McLear, press secretary to the governor, said Schwarzenegger had not changed his position on traditional marriage, but believes seeking a constitutional amendment is not the right course of action.

"He doesn't believe it's the right way to go, to do an end-run around a Supreme Court decision," McLear said. "He has defended Proposition 22." "He has vetoed bills that would have gone against Proposition 22."

Proposition 22 is the statute approved by California voters in 2000, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Supporters of same-sex marriage immediately challenged the law as unconstitutional and its been in the courts ever since. The state's high court is considering the matter and a ruling is expected by the first part of June. The amendment drive was launched over concerns the high court might overturn the proposition.

"Whatever they decide, he will uphold that," the press secretary said.

Mark Larson, a radio talk show host on San Diego's AM 1700, said people should not take too much stock in Schwarzenegger's comments before the Log Cabin Republicans, a national group of gay and lesbian conservatives.

"I think he was connecting with the room, as politicians tend to do," Larson said.

The conservative radio host said he met with the governor and his key staff members about a month ago and said he believes the governor is receptive to the will of the people, but that conservatives have not done a good job of telling the governor how they feel about issues and then failing to thank him when he responds favorably, such as his recent pledge to protect home school rights.

In addition, Larson said Schwarzenegger's comments might have actually helped the petition effort.

"It probably riled people up," Larson said. "I think we probably got the right number of signatures because of what he said."

As of press time, the number of petitions were still being counted, but were expected to be delivered to each county office by April 24. Ron Prentice, spokesman for the Protect Marriage drive, said the number of signatures collected would reach the target goal of 1.1 million, primarily because of last-minute efforts by both paid and volunteer workers.

"This is an unprecedented attempt by a large coalition of churches, organizations, individuals," he said.

It will take at least one month to verify the signatures, said Andrew Pugno, one of the coalition's supporters.

In the coming weeks, Prentice said the key goal will be to educate voters that the amendment will protect traditional marriage without causing punitive roll-backs of existing rights.

"This constitutional amendment keeps all domestic partnership rights and privileges while at the same time enforcing the will of the people," he said.

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