Sunday, July 29, 2007

Radical Right Mounts Two Rival Anti-Marriage Drives

One Would Also Abolish Domestic Partnerships, the Other Wouldn’t


Two rival radical-Right initiatives being proposed to ban legal recognition of same-sex marriages in California reveal a split in strategy and tactics within the anti-Queer, anti-marriage movement. The California Family Council, affiliated with Jim Dobson’s powerful Focus on the Family organization, is promoting a so-called “Protect Marriage” initiative that would simply write into the state constitution Proposition 22, passed by California voters 61 to 39 percent in 2000, which defined marriage in California exclusively as the union of one man and one woman.

Another group, called the Voters’ Right to Protect Marriage Initiative and headed by former California Assemblymember Larry Bowler, is going farther and pushing a ballot measure that would not only define marriage as one man and one woman but would also repeal California’s landmark domestic partnership legislation. Both groups are fighting for large-scale financial backing to pay signature gatherers to get their initiatives on the ballot.

The two rival initiatives are coming up in the middle of a process by which supporters of marriage equality for same-sex couples are pushing their demand in the legislature and the courts. In 2005, both houses of the California state legislature passed a marriage equality bill, but Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it and said in his veto message that the final determination of whether California should legally recognize same-sex marriages should be made by the courts or by voters.

This year, a similar bill has already passed the State Assembly and is pending before the State Senate. What’s more, the California Supreme Court is expected to hear a challenge to the constitutionality of Proposition 22 and issue its ruling shortly before the June 2008 election, when either or both anti-marriage equality initiatives may be on the ballot. Either initiative would nullify a court ruling that the state constitution required the state to recognize same-sex marriages equally to opposite-sex marriages — but the Bowler initiative would go considerably farther.

“An amendment to the California constitution, which requires a vote of the people, is the only way to stop the politicians, and especially the courts, from redefining marriage against the will of the majority of Californians,” Ron Prentice, executive director of the California Family Council, said in a press release from his organization. “We are confident that Californians continue to want to protect traditional marriage as it has always been.”

Prentice’s release also contains his explanation for why the California Family Council initiative isn’t directly attacking domestic partnership rights as well as same-sex marriage. Claiming that California voters “are reluctant to take away existing rights,” Prentice said, “For this reason, I strongly believe that placing the winnable language of Proposition 22 into the state constitution is the best, and only winnable, choice.”

In the Voters’ Right press release, Bowler said his group had an immediate goal to raise $2 million from “people of means who strongly believe in marriage … to override the judges and politicians and fully and permanently protect marriage for one man and one woman. The only initiative that will accomplish this is the rock-solid amendment.”

“The threat to marriage in California is very real,” the Voters’ Right release stated. After reviewing the history of the state supreme court case and saying the court “has enough votes to create homosexual ‘marriages’” — a view not echoed in the statements and releases from marriage equality advocates, who are considerably more uncertain about the likely outcome of the case — the release criticized Proposition 22 on the ground that “the proposition’s limited text … left marriage an empty shell devoid of any exclusive value.” This is likely a response to the state court rulings that threw out radical-Right challenges to the domestic partnership law on the ground that Proposition 22 dealt exclusively with defining marriage and didn’t stop the legislature from creating mutual rights and responsibilities for same-sex couples that stopped short of full-fledged marriage.

Despite the clear distinction in strategy and tactics between the two radical-Right groups, Equality California (EQCA), the principal lobby in the state for marriage equality and Queer rights generally, sees no real difference. Criticizing both groups, Equality California’s statement says, “If they had their way, these extremists would completely write LGBT [Queer] people out of the California constitution — the very document that should protect the rights of all Californians. We will not — we cannot — let that happen.”

At the July 15 Spirit of Stonewall community celebration in Balboa Park, which kicked off San Diego’s Pride events, EQCA director Seth Kilbourn made it clear that his group is unwilling to accept any compromise that leaves California’s domestic partnership law in place but closes the door on marriage equality. “Domestic partnerships and marriage will always be unequal in terms of rights and benefits, status and recognition, and dignity and respect,” Kilbourn said. “There are only two reasons to have two different systems, one for Gay people and one for everybody else. Either the systems are unequal in terms of the protections they provide — which they are — or there’s a general acceptance that one group is somehow less worthy than the other. No matter how you feel about the institution of marriage, how can we accept inequality in the law, and accept the notion that Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Americans are somehow ‘less than’?”

The organizations mentioned in this article can be reached at the following Web sites:

Equality California:

California Family Council:

Voters’ Right to Protect Marriage: