Voters will decide in November whether same-sex marriage is constitutional. Frank Stoltze says it's likely to be one of the most provocative and divisive fights in state history.
Frank Stoltze: A warrior of the conservative right, Mike Spence heads the California Republican Assembly. Eight years ago, that political action committee helped pass a statewide ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage. Last month's court ruling overturned that vote. Spence maintains a sense of urgency about this new twist on marriage.
Mike Spence: It's a reality. It's not something that's theoretical like it was in the year 2000. It's a reality that if marriage isn't protected now, there really is no way that marriage will be protected in the future, and so I mean, it's do or die in that sense.
Stoltze: Social conservatives have placed on the ballot a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, not merely a proposal to change the state's family code as they did eight years back. Spence says the fall campaign will be about California's Supreme Court "usurping" the will of the people. He also adds it'll be about traditional definitions of marriage and family. And, he adds, the initiative campaign will transcend party, ideology, and ethnicity.
Spence: You have the greatest support for this kind of initiative among Latinos, which traditionally are not, quote-unquote, Republican voters. African-Americans support it more than Anglos do. And you know, if you go back to 2000, 29% of self-identified liberals supported the initiative.
Stoltze: Spence notes that Los Angeles County voters supported the gay marriage ban eight years ago.
Spence: I think L.A. will be a very competitive area, because of the diversity of Los Angeles.
Stoltze: In the patio of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran prepares for a "how-to" forum on same-sex marriage. Duran is president of Equality California, the group leading the effort to defeat the anti-gay marriage initiative. Like Mike Spence, Duran contends it'll be important to win over minority voters. He acknowledges that African-Americans typically oppose gay marriage.
John Duran: But at the same time, they're also aware that sometimes church and religion can be used in a very discriminatory way, so it's sort of reminding them of some of the history of, you know, the religious movements in the deep south, for example, during the 1940s, '50s, and '60s. So it's going to require some careful tailoring with different messengers to speak to people in the language in which they'll understand and hear it.
Stoltze: Duran says his group will focus its message on equality and fundamental fairness. Key to its argument: if they ban gay marriage, voters would be taking away a right the state's already granted. Duran says people are more inclined to accept gay and lesbian couples than they were when they voted to ban same-sex marriage. Timing, he says, is everything.
Duran: If this initiative had been on the ballot in June of 2008, we would have been sunk. The fact that we're going to be on the ballot in November 2008 on the coattails of Senator Obama I think actually plays in our favor.
Stoltze: Duran predicts that'll turn out a lot of his allies, young people and social liberals. Opponents of same-sex marriage note that Obama has refused to endorse it. They also dismiss Republican Governor Schwarzenegger's endorsement of gay marriage, noting that his popularity is waning amid the state's budget problems.
Organizer outside forum: The right wing is on their way to raising $10 million, they've already been able to secure 2 million in funding, so the first thing we're asking people today is to donate $146, which is basically one dollar a day until November...
Stoltze: Both sides are gearing up for a very expensive initiative fight, with nationwide fundraising appeals. Bruce Hausknecht is from Colorado-based Focus on the Family Action, a powerhouse in conservative religious politics.
Bruce Hausknecht: Well I'm sure we will publicize it as often as we can. We see it as a key battle for the definition of marriage throughout the United States. Stoltze: Hausknecht says the fight is important because California doesn't require residency for marriage. That holds major implications for religious liberty and states' rights, says Mike Spence of the California Republican Assembly.
Spence: You know, when the first polygamist goes in and files a lawsuit because they want to bring their three wives over from some country and have them recognized in marriage, that's going to be a problem image for the "no" side on the protect marriage initiative.
Stoltze: Legal analysts point out that the ruling that legalized same-sex marriages does not allow more than two people to marry one another. Eight years ago, California voters banned gay marriage by a 61 to 39 percent vote. The latest opinion surveys suggest a vastly different political landscape, with voters more or less evenly split on the issue. Spence contends that many people are just trying to be politically correct when they say they support gay marriage.
Spence: I think that people will be lying to pollsters throughout this whole election because it's a very sensitive issue. And so it will be hard to get a handle on what's really going on out there.
Stoltze: Analysts predict the vote will be close in November. At a recent forum on same-sex marriage, Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center Executive Director Lorri Jean urged gays and lesbians to think about the way they present themselves when they get married. She referenced a poll conducted when San Franscisco briefly allowed gay marriages and people were showing up in T-shirts and jeans.
Lorri Jean: In some quarters, that made people think that we were not taking marriage seriously. We know from our polling that this had an impact, and so what we are urging people to do for the next five months is to be conscious that your pictures might be taken.
Stoltze: West Hollywood Councilman Duran also addressed the forum. He urged people to carry home the politics surrounding this new law.
Duran: Have I talked to my mother and father about why this issue is important to me? No, not yet, because I just assume they'll be fine, but you know what? I need to talk to my mother and father.
Stoltze: Duran advised that it's best not to assume anything on the politically sensitive subject of marriage.