Domestic Partner Rights Threatened By Gay Marriage Ban Measure
SACRAMENTO -- California's attorney general on Monday released a summary of a proposed constitutional amendment that highlights how the measure would strip same-sex couples of most domestic partner rights while also banning gay marriage.
The preparation of an official circulating title and language for the amendment means opponents of same-sex marriage may now begin gathering the 598,105 signatures they need to qualify the measure for the June 2006 ballot.
But the amendment's official sponsors -- Randy Thomasson of the Campaign for Children and Families, former Assemblyman Larry Bowler and Sacramento activist Ed Hernandez -- said Monday that they plan to challenge Attorney General Bill Lockyer's proposed summary in court, calling it prejudicial and erroneous.
"True to his liberal bias, but untrue to his constitutional duty, Bill Lockyer has dumped on us an inaccurate and prejudicial paragraph that is anything but impartial and fair as the law requires," Thomasson said.
Thomasson took exception in particular to Lockyer's focusing on what the amendment would take away from registered domestic partners instead of what it would do to safeguard marriage in the status quo.
"Lockyer completely ignores the chief points, ... the whole issue is the protection of marriage," the group behind the initiative, VoteYesMarriage.com, said in a statement.
From top to bottom, the Democratic attorney general's 100-word analysis makes it clear that if the amendment passed, it would limit a lot more than marriage to unions between a man and a woman. While sponsors submitted a working title of "The Voters' Right to Protect Marriage Initiative," for instance, the attorney general has renamed it, "Marriage. Elimination of Domestic Partnership Rights."
The summary that would appear at the top of the petitions that will be circulated for signatures similarly calls attention to how the amendment would reverse the six-year course the state Legislature has been on in extending significant spousal rights to same-sex couples.
While noting that the amendment would "provide that only marriage between one man and one woman is valid or recognized in California," it goes on to state that the measure "voids and restricts registered domestic partner rights and obligations" in areas ranging from inheritance and adoption to insurance benefits and hospital visitation."
"The attorney general's responsibility is to accurately describe what the measure does," said Nathan Barankin, a spokesman for Lockyer. "It's not up to us to wage the political campaign the proponents or opponents want to wage, just to tell the voters the truth."
The stripped-down language could prove a liability for the amendment's proponents as they seek to qualify it for the ballot and win voter approval.
Although California voters approved a ballot initiative five years ago limiting marriage to a man and a woman, since then the state Legislature has granted gay and elderly couples who register as domestic partners nearly all the rights and responsibilities of married spouses. Polls have shown most voters support extending the rights of marriage, if not the institution itself, to same-sex couples.
"California voters, even though they are relatively liberal, probably do not support gay marriage," said Elizabeth Garrett, a University of Southern California law professor. "But if it's very clear to voters it is not just a gay marriage amendment than it is less likely to pass. Opponents will capitalize on that and it gives them a chance to characterize this as an extreme initiative out of the California mainstream."
Gay rights advocates nonetheless expect the amendment to make it to ballot, along with gay marriage bans in Alabama, Indiana, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Colorado, Arizona, Florida, Virginia, South Dakota and Tennessee, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Voters in Texas will render a decision on an amendment outlawing gay marriage this year.
"This proposal (in California) would strip away more rights from more families than any other proposal we have seen in any other state," said Seth Kilbourn, vice president of HRC's Marriage Project. "It would actually permanently ban the California Legislature, the courts and the governor's office from providing any legal protections to legally recognized domestic partners."
Meanwhile, a group that includes the widow of the late Sen. William J. "Pete" Knight, has submitted a competing amendment that a lawyer for ProtectMarriage.com campaign said would go even further by preventing the state government from recognizing same-sex unions in any way. Knight was the sponsor of Proposition 22, the 2000 ballot initiative that prevented the state from recognizing same-sex unions performed elsewhere.
Andrew Pugno, an attorney for the Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund, said his clients felt compelled to put forth a second gay marriage amendment because they think the first leaves room for lawmakers to confer legal and economic rights to same-sex couples as long as they aren't already reserved for marriage.
The attorney general's office was expected to release a summary of that amendment this week.