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Backers of same-sex marriage differ on when to return to California voters


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POSTED: Thursday, August 13, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO—One of California's leading gay rights groups, Equality California, said Wednesday that it would not seek to overturn the state's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage next year, even as another group advocating for same-sex marriage said 2010 was the right time to go back to the ballot.

Officials with Equality California had argued for a quick return to the polls to overturn Proposition 8, which California voters approved in November by 52 percent. But in a conference call Wednesday, the group's leader made it clear that they now preferred a more cautious approach, with November 2012 as a target.

“;What we found is that through our experience, both in talking to people over the past few months and our experience working on marriage equality over a number of years, is that the work is slow going but doable,”; said Marc Solomon, the group's marriage director. “;It takes time and commitment and lots and lots of volunteers to undo untruths that our opponents have been telling.”;

The group's announcement came an hour after the Courage Campaign, a collection of “;grass-roots and net-roots activists,”; said results of an early fundraising push had emboldened it to push ahead with plans to oppose Proposition 8 next year.

“;We are not going to let the calendar dictate people's rights,”; said Rick Jacobs, the group's founder, who added that it had raised more than $75,000 in the last 24 hours. “;As of now, we are moving forward for 2010.”;

Both groups are at the forefront of the debate over when to challenge the ban, and they played down the division over when to return to the polls. But it is apparent that strategic differences exist.

Those in favor of a quick return, like Jacobs, say the momentum from anger over Proposition 8's passage should be tapped, while Equality California says more time is needed to persuade voters, particularly groups that supported Proposition 8, like minorities, rural residents and the elderly.

Solomon also articulated several other arguments against trying to get on the 2010 ballot, including a lack of enthusiasm from major donors and a sense that greater numbers of young voters who support gay rights will turn out—and be of voting age—in 2012, a presidential election year.

“;People who are now 16, 17, 18 will be added to the voter rolls,”; said Solomon, who said his group's research showed 60 percent of voters under the age of 30 approved of same-sex marriage.

The deadline for the California secretary of state to decide if a measure qualifies for the November 2010 ballot is next June; petitioners need to collect nearly 700,000 signatures by then.

Opponents of same-sex marriage were averse to another election, saying Californians had already voted on the issue. “;If asked to do so, they will indeed vote again to protect traditional marriage,”; said Ron Prentice of ProtectMarriage.com, the leading group behind Proposition 8.

Overall, 49 percent of California voters approve of same-sex marriage, with 44 percent disapproving of it, according to an analysis of Field polls released Aug. 5. Such close margins have made decisions on political strategy more difficult, opponents of Proposition 8 said.

“;The polling is clear that it's not clear,”; Jacobs said. “;If there were polling data that showed right now that we win in one year or another, there wouldn't be this discussion.”;

The ballot debate came as a federal judge presiding over a legal challenge to Proposition 8 ordered both sides Wednesday to resubmit briefs by Monday on how they wished to proceed.

The state Supreme Court upheld the ban in May, but the timing of the federal case has some advocates for same-sex marriage arguing that a failure there could damage their efforts to persuade voters to reject the proposition.

Such views have discouraged longtime gay activists, who have watched several states legalize same-sex marriage recently.

“;The troops, such as they are, are more disunited than ever and battling each other to the next failure,”; said Larry Kramer, the playwright and a founder of the group Act Up, which led the fight for AIDS research. “;They cannot agree on anything now.”;

Officials with Equality California and the Courage Campaign said that was untrue.

“;We're all in this for the same thing,”; Jacobs said. “;I don't see why this should put us at cross-purposes.”;