Wednesday, December 28, 2005

California anti-gay initiatives on hold

okaytobegay
Detail from mural painted outside a high school in San Francisco. Somewhat to my amazement, it has survived without being defaced for several months.
Good news for California gays today -- forces aiming to qualify initiatives to ban gay marriage have backed off for the moment. The "ProtectMarriage.com" set, a Focus on the Family front group, collected only half the signatures it would have needed to get its measure on the June 2006 primary ballot. Another lot, "VoteYesMarriage.com," this one a front for Lou Sheldon's "Traditional Values Coalition," didn't even get to the signature gathering stage. Both vow to come back and maybe they will, but for the moment, things are going well for the forces of tolerance.

On gay marriage, the longer it takes opponents to get organized, the weaker they will get. The San Francisco marriages celebrated in 2004; the passage of a gay marriage bill by the legislature in 2005 (vetoed by Schwarzenegger); the decision by a state court saying the California constitution forbids discrimination against gay marriage (now on appeal); and the numerous legal gay marriages in Massachusetts and many parts of Europe -- all these developments have helped indifferent voters become used to the idea that the sky won't fall if the queers get married. Current polling is very encouraging:

Since the passage of [the anti-gay marriage statute] Proposition 22, [Mark] Baldassare, [research director of the Public Policy Institute of California] said, Californians appear to have gradually softened their views on same-sex marriage.

In 2000, polls showed that only 38% of likely voters in California supported same-sex marriage. But a poll this August showed 46% supporting it and 46% opposing. Among all California adults, 44% favored same-sex marriage and 48% opposed it, he said.

Time is on the side of gay marriage.

The leaders who have worked to organize Equality California, the gay campaign to defeat the marriage bans, warn that this setback for the reactionaries may be temporary. And the anti-gay folks do vow that they'll raise the money to get their initiative on the November ballot. But if they do, they'll be running into some complicating, countervailing California Republican politics.

Governor Arnold certainly does not want a gay marriage vote in November. He is struggling to win back centrist independents and conservative Democrats whose support he frittered away in the last year. At the same time he needs California's extremely conservative Neanderthal Republicans. Having to declare for or against gay marriage is the last thing he needs in a difficult re-election.

Crucially, Attorney General Bill Lockyer has determined (and his interpretation would be part of the ballot language) that both the proposed initiatives would roll back existing domestic partnership law. Proponents of the measure that is not yet out for signature collection say their law would have no such legal effect. But the AG's description will give opponents a strong handle against it.

As I've explored before, the AG's role in describing initiative measures makes it crucial that progressive Californians pay attention to who is running for this second tier statewide office. Lockyer is termed out in 2006. There are two declared Democratic candidates for the post: former Governor and Oakland mayor, Jerry Brown and Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo. Presumably Brown would be at least somewhat sympathetic to gay civil rights, though his Oakland tenure has not been exactly progressive. Delgadillo's campaign web site promotes his law enforcement credentials and makes no mention of his civil rights record. The candidate will be determined in a June primary. The Republican candidate is State Sen. Chuck Poochigian of Fresno, almost certainly no friend of inclusive gay rights.

Supporters of marriage rights for gays need to press all the AG candidates to express clear positions on their understanding of how such a reform might be accomplished and generally get them on record in anticipation of battles to come.

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