- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2003

California Gov. Gray Davis’ pledge to sign a bill giving homosexual couples nearly all traditional marriage rights is seen by many as an attempt to cobble together a coalition of liberal voters to fend off the recall effort.

The California state Senate narrowly passed the bill Thursday, which contradicts Proposition 22, the Protection of Marriage Initiative, that was approved in 2000 with 61 percent of the vote.

“It’s hypocritical for Democrat politicians to vote against democracy by rejecting the people’s vote on marriage,” said Randy Thomasson, executive director of the Campaign for California Families.

“The 4.6 million Californians who voted to preserve and protect marriage have another reason to recall Gray Davis if he signs [this bill]. This will come back to haunt Davis at the ballot box.”

Last week, Mr. Davis broke his long-standing policy of not announcing where he stood on prospective bills until they crossed his desk by coming out in favor of the bill that its opponents consider “gay marriage by another name.”

If the bill passes the California Assembly — which political observers in the state think could happen as early as next week — it would put California close to the standards of Vermont, which is the only state that recognizes the “civil unions” of homosexuals.

Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg of Los Angeles, a lesbian who raised a son with her domestic partner, called the bill “a massive building block” that gives homosexual rights activists “maybe 90 percent” of what they want on this issue.

The bill would allow domestic partners to ask for child support and alimony and the ability to make funeral arrangements for a partner.

Supporting the bill is an opportunity for Mr. Davis to garner the support of California’s liberal Democrats, said Jack Pitney, government professor at Claremont McKenna College in California.

“He’s never been a friend of California liberals,” Mr. Pitney said, because of his reluctance to champion their causes. But he needs more than half of California electorate to vote “no” on the recall question Oct. 7, and is reaching out to the Democratic Party’s base to survive.

“Right now, he’s looking for friends wherever he can find them,” Mr. Pitney said.

Earlier in the year, Davis spokesmen hinted that the governor couldn’t commit to the idea of a domestic-partner bill. His sudden change of heart is not a coincidence, said California Democratic political strategist Darry Sragow.

“There’s no question that the way that Gray Davis beats the recall is to shore up his political base,” Mr. Sragow said. “When this all started, a third of Democrats said they’d vote for the recall and he has to change that number.”

Mr. Sragow said liberals don’t have “the warm and fuzzies” for Mr. Davis, but want to see him doing a good job as governor before they decide to voting against the recall.

“It’s about feeling an investment in his retention,” Mr. Sragow said. “People in California have made up their minds about Gray Davis as a person, but he has to make sure that they vote.”

It would benefit Mr. Davis if the domestic-partnership issue stayed in the news, Mr. Pitney said, because of its potential to split conservatives away from the candidacy of actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Republican front-runner.

Mr. Schwarzenegger has described himself as a social liberal and told Sean Hannity’s national radio show this week that he supports “domestic partnerships.” Schwarzenegger spokesman Rob Stutzman, however, said the candidate is “still studying the issue but there are serious concerns.”

“The more people talk about [social issues] in this campaign, the worse it is for Arnold,” Mr. Pitney said. “Discussion of these issues will get the interest of the social conservatives and draw attention to their differences with him.”

State Sen. Tom McClintock, a conservative who is running behind Mr. Schwarzenegger in every poll, opposes the domestic partnership bill and can be expected to use that as a point of contrast, Mr. Pitney said.

A California Field Poll released yesterday showed that half of California voters oppose homosexual “marriages,” but more than seven in 10 support domestic-partnership laws granting same-sex couples legal recognition and rights.

But Republicans and those who call themselves conservatives are more than twice as likely to oppose homosexual “marriage” or domestic-partnership laws than Democrats and independents to disapprove.

“This is California and domestic partnership is far more broadly accepted here,” Mr. Sragow said, adding that continued discussion of the issue — or any substantive matter — hurts the Schwarzenegger campaign.

In another recall development, a three-judge federal panel heard arguments by civil rights groups seeking to delay the Oct. 7. recall election. They claim the hurry-up time frame is forcing counties to change voting plans in ways that disenfranchise minority voters.

Under the federal Voting Rights Act, the Department of Justice must preapprove any revisions to the voting process in Monterey and three other California counties with a history of low voter participation. The panel said would not make a decision until Sept. 5.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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