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[whitespace] Knight Time

By Marina Wolf

IN THE OFFICIAL state voter's pamphlet, the outline of Proposition 22 seems ridiculously short. It is, as its proponents delight in pointing out, just 14 words: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

"The religious right was very smart in choosing those 14 words," says Maddy Hirshfield, spokeswoman for the Sonoma County No on Proposition 22 campaign and the only openly gay person ever to run for the Board of Supervisors. "You can't read between the lines. You have to read between the words, and boy, is there a lot of room in there."

Prop. 22--also known as the Limit of Marriage Initiative or the Knight Initiative, after its sponsoring legislator, state Sen. Pete Knight, R-Palmdale--is California's version of amendments and ballot measures that have flooded the country in the past few years, in response to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. That act eliminated states' constitutional obligation to recognize other states' legal contracts with regard to same-sex marriages. In other words, states do not have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Since then, 30 states have passed some version of Prop. 22; if the latest polls are accurate, and stay that way (surveys show the usually liberal Bay Area almost evenly split on the issue with many undecided), California may be the next.

Though no state currently recognizes same-sex marriages, the question is far from academic. Hawaii came close last year, and the Vermont Supreme Court last month ruled that the state must either legalize same-sex marriage or find an exact equivalent in some kind of domestic-partnership program.

Not surprisingly, morality and religion are playing a key part on both sides of Prop. 22. The religious right has been quick to respond to what it perceives as a threat to the traditional institution of marriage, and the Church of Latter-Day Saints--with its large, loyal, and easily mobilized membership base--has led the charge. Though donations from individual members cannot be tracked, some estimates say the funds coaxed from California Mormons total at least half of the $5 million raised so far in support of the proposition. Meanwhile, a coalition of moderate and liberal-leaning churches sent a letter on Dec. 23 to leaders of the LDS church leadership, urging them to reconsider their "extraordinary efforts" on behalf of Prop. 22.

But even if the Mormons were to back out entirely, the No on Knight campaign is still facing substantial resistance from otherwise liberal voters. Even in Sonoma County, voters are showing some reluctance to oppose Prop. 22. "Marriage is such a touchy issue, even people who are otherwise totally supportive are not into same-sex marriage," Hirshfield says. "But when we start educating, when we talk about fairness, people get it."

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From the February 17-23, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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