* Biggest California pro-gay-marriage group plans 2012 fight
* Smaller groups vow to fight state gay marriage ban in 2010
* Fight expected to spill onto national stage
By Peter Henderson
SAN FRANCISCO Aug 12 The biggest California
gay rights advocacy group on Wednesday said it needed three
years to build a coalition to repeal a ban on same-sex marriage
in the state, creating a rift in the movement with those who
want to go back to the polls next year while anger is hot.
California, the most populous state and often a
standard-bearer for social liberalism, is the biggest prize in
U.S. culture wars. The next fight over gay marriage is sure to
draw in national organizations, cost $100 million or more, and
may affect the next U.S. presidential campaign if it takes
place in 2012.
California's November 2008 vote to ban same-sex marriage,
months after the state's top court legalized it, bolstered the
power of social conservatives but sparked nationwide protests
among gays and their allies. It was followed by legalization of
gay marriage in a handful of mostly Northeastern states.
"We can have majority support by 2012," said Marc Solomon,
marriage director of Equality California, in a conference call.
His group raised the most money and led the 2008 campaign
against Proposition 8, which defines marriage as between a man
and a woman and was approved by California voters.
Big donors are not ready to fund a new fight so soon after
failure, and a door-to-door campaign will take time, he said.
But smaller groups have said waiting will sap momentum
among gays and their allies still smarting from the unexpected
ballot results. They vowed to mount a 2010 challenge, which
would coincide with federal mid-term elections.
"This is not some kitchen table group. If you stop that
momentum now, those people won't necessarily be there in 2012
when you decide to start your campaign back up," said John
Henning, Executive Director of Love Honor Cherish.
His group has a plan to raise more than a million
signatures with volunteers and says a $32 million war chest
would be enough to win the fight.
The California debate reflects a national question over how
solid opposition is to same-sex marriage. Many advocates say
that exposure to stable same-sex couples and assurances that
churches will not be forced to marry gays will convince a
silent majority that anyone should be able to marry. But most
states explicitly ban such gay unions, and have often done so
by popular vote.
Activism among gay rights groups has intensified since the
November defeat in California, but social conservatives with
deep pockets and legendary organizational skills are preparing
for the next fight, too.
Proponents of the 2010 challenge say that the tide of anger
will drive their success and others will join as a campaign
plan is laid out and early efforts show success.
"We're in a movement era," said Rick Jacobs, the chair of
the Courage Campaign, which trains grass-roots organizers. The
day after the California ban passed -- and after President
Barack Obama was elected -- was a wake-up call for gay
advocates, he said.
"On the one hand they put an African American man in the
White House when it was impossible. On the other hand they had
their rights taken away."
(Reporting by Peter Henderson, Editing by Frances Kerry)