SACRAMENTO, Calif. (BP)–A proposed constitutional marriage amendment apparently will make the ballot in California, setting the stage for what could be the highest-profile and most expensive political battle yet over “gay marriage.”
But the amendment isn’t the only significant pro-family initiative on the ballot this fall. Voters in Florida, and possibly Arizona, also will vote on a constitutional marriage amendment. South Dakota voters once again will decide whether to ban most abortions in the state, while Coloradans will — if an ongoing petition drive is successful — decide whether to add language to the state constitution defining persons to include “any human being from the moment of conception.”
The California amendment battle, though, could attract the most attention and not just because it’s the most populous state in the nation. The California Supreme Court is set to rule any day on a lawsuit seeking the legalization of “gay marriage.” If the justices decide to change the definition of marriage to include homosexual couples, then the ballot initiative this fall — in the midst of a presidential campaign no less — would determine whether the decision stands.
The fact that the Golden State has one of the nation’s largest homosexual populations and one the country’s more liberal legislatures — the state Assembly and Senate have passed a “gay marriage” bill twice, only to see it vetoed each time — just adds to the amendment’s significance.
The pro-amendment organization ProtectMarriage.com turned in more than 1.1 million signatures to county officials and likely will know within two months if it officially made the ballot. Because the amendment needed only 690,000 valid signatures, officials with the campaign are confident they were successful.
Chris Clark, pastor of East Clairemont Southern Baptist Church in San Diego, said conservatives realize that a victory in November — even though a majority of states already have such an amendment — won’t be easy. He estimates that pro-family groups will be outspent 3-to-1.
“[Amendment opponents] have very deep pockets,” he said. “They have a very energized base. They realize what’s at stake, and we do too. It is going to be a monumental effort. This is where we are going to need people throughout the country to come to our aid. If it does not pass in California, it’s only going to be a matter of time before they’re going to be facing it in their own state.”
If the amendment is defeated and California legalizes “gay marriage,” Clark said, same-sex couples will take the marriage licenses to other states and sue for recognition there. That hasn’t been a problem in Massachusetts — the only state where “gay marriage” is legal — because it prohibits out-of-staters from getting married.
“And the courts are going to say, ‘Yes you do need to recognize marriages in other states regardless of what your constitutional amendment says,” Clark said.
Equality for All, the homosexual organization that will lead the opposition, said in a statement it has “recruited thousands of volunteers to tell Californians the truth” about the amendment and “the harm it could cause for millions of California families.” California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, surprised some observers when he said he opposed the amendment. He has twice vetoed bills that would have legalized “gay marriage.”
“We have built an incredibly strong network of opposition to this amendment and will expand it even further between now and November,” the Equality for All statement said.
One element helping the amendment is its simplicity. Only 14 words, it reads, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” The political landscape will be different from that in Arizona, where a marriage amendment was defeated in 2006 in part because opponents argued that it would impact heterosexual couples and even limit Social Security incomes for senior couples (which it would not have done). Arizona’s debate focused on seemingly every issue except for “gay marriage.”
Churches, Clark said, played a significant role in the successful petition drive, which reached its goal in just over 90 days. More than 300 churches — including approximately 50 Southern Baptist ones — served as petition distribution and collection centers. The campaign also relied on paid signature gatherers, a common practice in California.
“Without a doubt this is a God-sized victory,” Clark said. “This is not something that we could have done in and of ourselves. It took the Lord and His Spirit to unite a coalition that crossed denominational and cultural lines, theological lines, to come together for this sole purpose.”
But the involvement of churches, he said, must grow if the amendment is to pass.
“We’re going to need even more participation,” he said. “We are going to have to double our efforts to energize churches to A) get their people registered to vote and B) to turn out the vote.”
Meanwhile, in other states:
— The Arizona House gave preliminary approval April 22 to a proposed constitutional marriage amendment. If it passes the House and Senate, it will go on the November ballot.
— Floridians will vote on a constitutional marriage amendment in November, thanks to a successful petition drive earlier this year. More information is available at www.Yes2Marriage.org.
— South Dakota residents will decide whether to ban abortion except in the cases of rape, incest or the health and life of the mother. The constitutional amendment specifically defines “health” so as not to include emotional health. Health, the amendment says, in part, is a “serious risk of a substantial and irreversible impairment of the functioning of a major bodily organ.” Supporters of the amendment submitted more than 46,000 signatures — more than twice the number required. The amendment is being promoted two years after a more strict amendment was defeated. More information is available at www.VoteYesforLife.com.
— Colorado citizens will vote on a personhood amendment if a petition drive by a pro-life group, Colorado for Equal Rights, is successful. It has the backing of Gerald Wilberforce, the great-great grandson of 19th-century British abolitionist William Wilberforce. For more information visit www.ColoradoforEqualRights.com.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor for Baptist Press. For more information about the California marriage amendment, visit ProtectMarriage.com.