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Gay Marriage Debate Continues in California


California voters approved a controversial measure in the recent election, which puts an end to gay marriage in the state. Similar measures were passed in the states of Arizona and Florida. There have been protests against the ban on gay marriage in major U.S. cities, and lawsuits filed to overturn it. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, it is now the law in California, but the dispute is far from over and resonates across the country.

Last May, the California Supreme Court opened the door to same-sex weddings, when it invalidated an earlier ballot measure, called Proposition 22. Approved by voters in 2000, Proposition 22 said only marriages between a man and woman are valid in California. The court, in rejecting it, said the measure violated the equal rights provisions of the state constitution.

Since the ruling, there have been more than 18,000 same-sex weddings in California, beginning in June.

Opponents of gay marriage again mobilized, collecting thousands of signatures for another measure, called Proposition 8, for the November ballot. It was intended to settle the question once and for all. Proposition 8 would amend the state constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and woman. The measure passed in the state November 4, with 52 percent of the vote.

The result disappointed Eric Fischer and his partner, Richard West, who were married July 1.

"We were lucky enough to have our wedding take place during that time frame that same-sex marriages were legal, but, there were a lot of people, who weren't ready for that at that time," said Eric Fischer. "And, now, our disappointment is that, perhaps, that's not going to happen for them."

The courts will now decide the status of the same-sex marriages conducted between June and early November. California attorney general Jerry Brown believes they are still valid.

"Now, the fact that I believe that as attorney general is one thing," said Jerry Brown. "It will depend, of course, on the California supreme court."

Two U.S. states permit same-sex marriage - Massachusetts and Connecticut, and three others - New Jersey, New Hampshire and Vermont - have civil unions. A number of states, including California, permit domestic partnerships, which offer limited rights to gay and lesbian couples.

More than 40 states have constitutional bans or laws against gay marriage. In the recent election, Arizona and Florida approved measures like California's to prohibit gay marriage in those states.

Thousands of demonstrators have marched in California to protest Proposition 8. Sympathizers have marched in Chicago, Boston, Portland and other U.S. cities. In Pasadena, California, the Reverend Zelda Kennedy of All Saints Episcopal Church criticized supporters of Proposition 8 in a rally at her church.

"Hell no, you are absolutely wrong," said Reverend Kennedy.

Political analysts say the large turnout of minority voters contributed to passage of the measure. More than half of California's Latinos supported it, and 70 percent of African Americans. Kennedy, who is black, says that saddens her.

"What happens to our brothers and sisters, happens to us," she said. "Now, we may not be able to feel it immediately, but it impacts us in the long run."

Other protesters have directed their anger at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons. The Mormons were major backers of the proposition, and protesters have demonstrated at their churches and temples in California and Salt Lake City, Utah, where the Mormon church is based.

The church responded that it is wrong to attack people for expressing their opinion and being part of the democratic process. It placed messages on its Web site asking for tolerance, saying the church does not oppose rights for same-sex couples in employment, housing or health care, short of marriage.

Derek Whitefield and Gary Dahle, who were married in California in September, say they are a family, too. Whitefield, who is a lawyer, says gays have the same right to marry as heterosexuals.

"Being gay, it's not something that a person chooses," said Derek Whitefield. "It's something that we're born with."

The Reverend Susan Russell heads a national organization in the U.S. Episcopal Church called Integrity, which supports gay rights. She calls Proposition 8 a temporary setback.

"I'm absolutely convinced that the arc of history bends towards inclusion, and that we have taken maybe a step backward, and we're gearing up to take another couple of steps forward," said Reverend Russell.

Opponents have filed four lawsuits to overturn Proposition 8, and they say the battle will continue in the courts and at the ballot box. Supporters say the proposition reflects the will of the people, and they predict it will withstand court challenges.

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