California Gay Marriage Backers Poised to Try Again in 2010

"The right time is now," says San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

May 4, 2009, 6:27 PM

May 5, 2009 -- Same-sex marriage backers in California, anticipating a loss in court, are preparing to make their case at the ballot box in 2010 rather than waiting until 2012.

"The right time is now," San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom told ABC News. "And if that means going back in 2010, I couldn't be more supportive."

"Wait almost always means never," he added, invoking Martin Luther King Jr.

California voters approved Proposition 8 in November, a change to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage. Although a decision has not yet been rendered in the legal challenge to Proposition 8, many gay marriage proponents in California expect the state Supreme Court to uphold the voter-approved ban on new gay marriages while leaving intact the gay marriages performed in 2008 when a decision of the state's High Court had temporarily legalized the practice.

The inclination on the part of Newsom, who is running for governor next year, to push for gay marriage in 2010 is in step with the thinking of Rick Jacobs, the chairman of the Courage Campaign, a liberal grassroots organization that is at the center of deciding when gay marriage advocates will launch their next campaign.

"Do we wait? My gut tells me no," Jacobs told ABC News.

The decision on when to push for gay marriage at the ballot box could be a critical one, according to California political strategists, because Democratic voter turnout in the state is typically heavier during presidential election years than it is during mid-term elections.

While traditional turnout models might recommend waiting until 2012, recent gay marriage victories in Iowa, Vermont, and the District of Columbia have emboldened gay rights activists in California.

Advocates of same-sex marriage are also encouraged to try in 2010 rather than in 2012 because all three Democrats eyeing the governor's office -- Newsom, Attorney General Jerry Brown and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa -- are active supporters of gay marriage, in contrast with President Obama, the Democrat who will likely top the party ticket in 2012.

To aid its decision on timing, the Courage Campaign is conducting a statewide poll to see if attitudes have changed since November, when voters narrowly decided to eliminate the state's court-recognized right to same-sex marriage.

It is also planning to hold town hall meetings around the state. Its partners in this effort include the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Marriage Equality USA, the Human Rights Campaign, and the California Federation of Labor.

Gay Marriage Backer: 'We Have to Remove Fear'

"We've got to have this all done by the end of June," Jacobs said.

Although a final decision on timing will not be made until next month, gay marriage backers are adamant that the next campaign be different from last year's "No on Prop. 8" campaign.

"People are not going to let the people who ran the last campaign run this campaign," Jacobs said.

To address voter concerns about the impact that state-sanctioned gay marriage could have on religious institutions, the Courage Campaign is considering possible ballot language that would guarantee the right of any two unrelated consenting adults to marry, while simultaneously stating that churches have a right to decide for themselves whom to marry.

"In order to win, we have to remove fear because that's all the other side has left," Jacobs said.

To make its campaign more personal and accessible, the Courage Campaign has convened workshops around the state to teach activists to "tell their story" about why same-sex marriage is important to them.

Modeled after the "Camp Obama" workshops the president used during hiscampaign, the goal of "Camp Courage" is to penetrate territory usually ignored by pro-gay marriage forces.

"After two days, we hope everyone is a community organizer," Jacobs said.

In addition to wanting to improve outreach to African-Americans, Jacobs is convinced that the "No on Prop. 8" campaign erred by not showing gays or lesbians in any of its ads.

"There were no pictures of gay people. The ads were all about fairness," Jacobs said. "This time, we're going to make it clear you're talking about real people."

ABC News' Elizabeth Gorman contributed to this report.

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