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Voters won’t see domestic-partnership rollback initiatives on November ballot

None of the initiatives designed to roll back California’s
domestic-partnerships law will make it onto the November ballot, according
to secretary of state filings and sources close to these initiative efforts.
However, the sponsor of one of these initiatives said they were only filed
as a “precaution” and were never even circulated for signatures.

“If there were any move toward gay marriage this year in the Legislature,
we would have proceeded,” said Dick Otterstad, outreach coordinator for the
Church of the Divide in Garden Valley.

Otterstad is a sponsor of “Invalidation of Domestic Partnerships,” a
constitutional amendment listed as still active on the secretary of state’s
Web site. He said he filed the initiative to ward off a scenario of the
Democratic Legislature passing a gay-marriage law with the idea of getting
it on the desk of a newly elected Democratic governor next year. Both major
candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Treasurer Phil
Angelides and Controller Steve Westly, have said they would sign a
gay-marriage law. Given that there was no repeat of last year’s effort–AB
849 from Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco–Otterstad said he did not go
ahead with signature gathering.

The lack of such initiatives on the ballot is probably good news for Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose re-election campaign has been engaged in a
delicate balancing act. Schwarzenegger has sought to move to the center
politically–witness his new emphasis on public works and hiring of openly
Democratic lesbian Chief of Staff Susan Kennedy–while still staying in the
good graces of the Republican base.

“If I were the governor, the fewer controversial measures on the ballot when
I was running for re-election the better,” said Dale Kelly Bankhead,
campaign director for the gay-rights group Equality for All. “There is no
question it is a polarizing issue.”

Six other initiatives designed to eliminate domestic partnerships currently
are sitting on the “failed” file in the secretary of state’s Web site. Five
of these were filed by Randy Thomasson, president of the anti-gay Campaign
for Children and Families, along with two associates, Sacramento activist Ed
Hernandez and Republican former-Assemblyman Larry Bowler. Thomasson did not
return calls for comment, but Otterstad said that his understanding was that
Thomasson filed his initiatives for similar precautionary reasons.

Matt Staver, founder and chairman of the Orlando, Fla., based Liberty
Counsel, wrote and advised on many of the anti-gay marriage and
anti-domestic-partnership initiatives around the country. Speaking to the
Capitol Weekly in early May, he said Thomasson was not moving forward with
his initiatives.

Staver said Thomasson wrote several versions in order to avoid a repeat of a
dispute last year with Attorney General Bill Lockyer. Thomasson submitted an
initiative with the title “Voters’ Right to Protect Marriage.” Lockyer
changed this to “Marriage. Elimination of Domestic Partnership Rights,”
ruling that taking those benefits away would have been the primary effect if
the measure passed. Thomasson filed a court challenge to the new title, lost
and eventually dropped the initiative effort. All of Thomasson’s 2006
initiatives had similar titles but featured different language, Staver said.

When asked about the efforts to ban not just gay marriage but domestic
partnerships as well, Staver said: “They are all designed to protect the
essence of marriage, not just the trademark of marriage.”

There is also an initiative to legalize gay marriage that technically is
still alive. However, Bankhead said that she believed that “Same-Sex
Marriage. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute” would not qualify
either. Her group is not a sponsor. The sponsors could not be reached for
comment by press time.

Bankhead added that all of these initiatives are only “dead for now.” Both
Thomasson and Otterstad’s groups have filed further initiatives that will
not expire anytime soon. These would not be eligible until the next ballot
which, barring a special election, won’t come until June 2008. However, she
added that she didn’t think these groups had the resources to qualify their
initiatives.

Otterstad disagreed. It generally takes up to 900,000 signatures in order to
gather the 598,105 valid ones needed to qualify these initiatives. For most
organizations, this would cost upward of $1 million. But most organizations
can’t tap into a network of evangelical churches. In Texas, Otterstad said
sponsors of an anti-gay marriage initiative held a “Marriage Sunday” and got
a large proportion of the signatures they needed in a single day. That
initiative passed in with 76 percent of the vote in November.

“If the churches of California wanted to define biblical marriage,”
Otterstad said, “they could do it in one Sunday with no expense.”


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