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Same-Sex Marriage Ruling Makes Waves

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By Ashley Surdin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 18, 2008

Opponents of same-sex marriage say they will ask the California Supreme Court to delay the implementation of its ruling allowing gay couples to wed in the state as those on both sides of the debate gear up for a November ballot measure aimed at undoing the court's decision.

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"It's certainly a temporary victory for those who favor same-sex marriage," Ron Prentice, steering committee chairman of ProtectMarriage.com, said of the decision invalidating a state law defining marriage exclusively as the union of a man and a woman. Prentice's coalition is seeking to overturn that ruling.

In about 30 days, when the court's ruling becomes official, same-sex couples throughout the state will no longer be denied marriage licenses. But a motion to extend the waiting period to November will be filed soon, said Mathew Staver, a lawyer for Campaign for California Families, one of the groups fighting to preserve the marriage ban.

In addition, a petition for a November ballot measure that would ban same-sex marriage by amending the state constitution has collected 1.1 million signatures -- far more than required -- and has been handed over to election officials.

Lawyers and strategists disagree on how this debate in California will end. But they do agree that things have changed since California voters passed a similar ballot measure eight years ago banning same-sex marriage through state statute.

"There's no question that this issue is going to dominate the fall ballot," said Dan Schnur, a Republican political analyst. "While public opinion in California supports domestic partnerships, the majority of voters still oppose same-sex marriage. But that gap is closing."

"It's too early to tell whether one side or the other is going to have the advantage," he said.

According to a 2007 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 55 percent of Americans oppose same-sex marriage, while 36 percent support it.

Opponents of same-sex marriage in California point to those numbers as proof that the majority of voters would back a state constitutional amendment. And, opponents say, the decision of California's highest court earlier this week will rouse more support.

"The overwhelming sentiment is that people favor marriage between a man and a woman," Staver said, adding that the high court's decision "will erase whatever hesitation [Californians] may have about amending their constitution."

Staver said he is confident that the court will grant his motion for a stay. Given the potential November initiative, allowing same-sex couples to wed would only create legal chaos for thousands of marriages that would be rendered moot, he asserted.

But the court is unlikely to grant the motion, according to David Cruz, a law professor at the University of Southern California. The court was well aware of the measure when it made its decision, he said.


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