Lesbian and Gay Rights in Danger in California

by Angela Arboleda, Senior Field Organizer

Reprinted courtesy of The Detroit News and Larry Wright.

On March 7, 2000, Californians will decide whether to amend their state constitution with 14 words that could target lesbians and gay men for discrimination. Proposition 22, commonly known as the Knight Initiative after its sponsor, Republican State Senator Pete Knight, reads:  "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

This effort comes in the wake of the federally-enacted Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed by Congress and signed in 1996 by President Clinton.  Although DOMA defines marriage as a union between people of the opposite sex for purposes of federal benefits, such as Social Security, the law purports to give states the freedom to accept or reject same-sex marriages for purposes of state laws, such as inheritance, divorce and custody.

As of May 1999, 31 states have passed their own versions of DOMA. Although Governor Gray Davis recently signed a bill that gives lesbian and gay couples comprehensive domestic partnership benefits, Proposition 22 threatens to chip away some or all of these advances, and California voters are faced with the prospect that lesbian and gay marriagesó even if legitimate in other statesó may not be recognized in their own.

Although marriage is a fundamental right under the United States Constitution, same-sex marriage remains unrecognized.  While lesbians and gay men can celebrate their unions with commitment ceremonies, those unions are not legally binding and carry none of the related rights and responsibilities.  Advantages extended to legally married couples include shared health coverage, medical and bereavement leave, tax breaks, and Social Security and other retirement benefits.

"Tradition cannot justify discrimination," said NOW President Patricia Ireland.  "Not long ago marriage was limited by tradition, and often by law, to people of the same race and religion."

Proposition 22 is yet another attempt by conservative forces to make lesbian and gay rights a political wedge issue.  This initiative is sponsored by supporters of Proposition 187, the anti-immigration initiative, and Proposition 209, the anti-affirmative action bill.  With a budget of over three million dollars and support from the Catholic and Mormon Churches, Knight Initiative supporters expect to add this anti-lesbian and gay amendment to their list of discriminatory, divide-and-conquer ballot measures passed in California.

NOW has developed an ambitious campaign to defeat Prop. 22 and help elect more feminist candidates to office in the year 2000.  NOW has already placed field organizers in Southern California who are working with chapters around Los Angeles to organize college students in the areas where the national NOW Political Action Committee has endorsed federal candidates.

NOW is also working in coalition with the "No On Knight Campaign" (www.noonknight.org) to increase the number of voters educated on the potential ramifications of Proposition 22 and to guarantee that the campaign includes a feminist message.

To get involved in NOW's efforts in California, call 202-628-8669, ext. 144, or 310-312-1335 or send e-mail to NOWFieldLA@hotmail.com.

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