SAN DIEGOAs Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger comes into office, gays and lesbians in California are under assault from right-wing forces eager to undo outgoing Gov. Gray Davis' groundbreaking moves extending a multitude of rights to the gay population.
Davis' signatures on pro-gay legislation have put California on par with Vermont, the only other state that grants same-sex couples broad matrimonial rights, benefits and responsibilities. In Vermont, same-sex couples marry in a civil-union ceremony. In California, they register as domestic partners with the Secretary of State. Both processes carry similar weight.
But anti-gay zealots have filed two lawsuits in California to halt implementation of one piece of legislation, Assembly Bill 205, that extends hundreds of new rights to California registered partners starting Jan. 1, 2005. They also are collecting signatures for a ballot referendum to undo Davis' signature on the bill.
The anti-gays say AB 205 violates Proposition 22, a ballot measure passed by voters in 2000 that defines marriage in California as between one male and one female.
'Gray Davis and [Lt. Gov.] Cruz Bustamante have conspired to bring homosexual marriage to California, disobeying the clear orders of the people,' said Randy Thomasson, executive director of Campaign for California Families. 'They have trashed the vote of the people and perverted the sacred institution of marriage.'
Proposition 22 was approved by 61 percent of voters. However, a recent Field Poll found that 72 percent of California voters support extending spousal rights to same-sex couples when it's not called marriage.
Governor-elect Schwarzenegger has stated that 'gay couples are entitled to full protection under the law and should not be discriminated against based on their relationship,' but a Schwarzenegger spokesperson also reportedly told the San Francisco Chronicle that Schwarzenegger would not have signed AB 205.
Equality California (EQCA), the statewide lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender civil-rights organization, has formed a committee to fight the AB 205 referendum, which was hatched by state Sen. Pete Knight, R-Palmdale, and Assemblymember Ray Haynes, R-Temecula. The group has dedicated $25,000 and its four employees to the project.
'The recent civil rights gains of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Californians are under serious attack,' said EQCA Executive Director Geoffrey Kors.
The anti-gays must collect 373,816 voter signatures by Dec. 21 to get the referendum on the ballot for the March 2004 presidential primary. If they succeed, voters would punch 'yes' to implement expanded domestic-partnership rights and 'no' to block them.
'We have a difficult task ahead of us and we need to get out there and educate people that this really is not marriage equality and that taking the rights away from domestic partners and their families will actually harm Californians and their children,' said EQCA Program Director Toni Broaddus.
AB 205 extends to domestic partners hundreds of state laws that now apply only to married couples and their families in areas such as community property, mutual responsibility for debts, parenthood presumptions, child custody and support obligations, access to family courts, the right not to testify against a partner, the right to obtain absentee ballots for a partner, and the right to claim a partner's body after death.
Gov. Davis also signed two other laws this year expanding GLBT rights. One requires private companies with state contracts of more than $100,000 to offer employees in domestic partnerships the same benefits as married couples. Another protects transgender people from discrimination in housing and employment. EQCA has called Davis the most pro-gay governor in U.S. history.
'We're trying to put together a campaign to recruit volunteers and let people know what's going on,' Broaddus said. 'We've also obviously got to do fundraising. We have four months to put on a winning campaign against the referendum.
'The first thing people should do to help is come out of the closet, because people who know gay people are much more willing to support our legal rights,' she said.
Beyond that, 'In the next month or so, there will be community organizing meetings all around the state,' she said. 'We're going to have a huge get-out-the-vote and education effort and we need massive amounts of volunteers. People can have house parties and invite all their friends and spread the word and collect money for the campaign. Donations are going to be really critical. Our opponents are going to hit us really hard on television and we need to be able to buy media time also.'
Even gays and lesbians who have no interest in registering or getting married should know the attempt to kill AB 205 will affect them, Broaddus said.
'The right wing has chosen this battleground because this is where they think they can win and beat back our march for civil rights across the board,' she said. 'This is about every single one of us. ... And because there is a national movement to amend the constitution [to ban same-sex marriage], what we are able to do in California will affect what the right wing is able to accomplish nationally. So this battle has a huge national significance.'
For more information, visit www.eqca.org .