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A plethora of politics

National | In California, ballot questions will affect voter turnout-and may have unintended effects on the presidential race

Issue: "Bush: Crunch time," March 4, 2000

Sure, it's a presidential election year, but in California, the hottest items on the March 7 ballot concern money and sex.

Proposition 1A would amend the California constitution to allow Indian tribes to earn more gambling money through casino-style betting on Indian lands. Nevada gambling interests, including Harrah's, have already cozied up to at least two tribes with a view to expanding their empires into the Golden State.

Proposition 22, by contrast, deals with the issue most dear to the homosexual political movement: gay marriage. Prop 22 would, if approved, grant no recognition to homosexual marriages performed in other states. Homosexual activists opposing the measure have recruited Judy Shepard, mother of slain Wyoming homosexual Matthew Shepard, to woo California voters with a message about hate and fear.

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Together, Propositions 1A and 22 are two emotional lightning rods certain to light up a presidential primary that is itself unique in the nation. California's "blanket" primary law, adopted four years ago, allows voters to punch their ballots for any presidential candidate they choose, regardless of party affiliation. That means, for example, that centrist Democrats tired of the Clinton taint could vote for a GOP contender, while more liberal GOP voters could mark their ballots Mr. Gore's way. (Only GOP voters will be allowed to choose GOP delegates, though.) Analysts say crossover balloting may foreshadow the outcome of the general elections in November. For now though, 367 Democratic and 162 Republican convention delegates are at stake, more than in any other state.

As the countdown to March marches on, candidates are nervously watching the polls. But turnout is almost as important. These controversial ballot measures may draw out voters who wouldn't have otherwise bothered to go mark their ballots. Some analysts say Proposition 22, the marriage amendment, may draw more conservatives-and hence more GOP voters-to the polls in March. At the same time, Prop 22 may stimulate liberal turnout.

Proposition 22 adds 14 words to the state's constitution: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." The measure, introduced by state senator Pete Knight, is designed to protect the definition of the traditional family. While the California constitution already defines marriage as a "civil contract between a man and a woman," it also requires the state to recognize legal marriages in other states as valid. With Vermont already at the threshold of legal homosexual marriage, Golden State pro-family activists hope to cut off the flow of same-sex interstate nuptial traffic before it begins.

Nationally speaking, Proposition 22 is perhaps the most-watched initiative on the California ballot. Gay activists across the country fear that those 14 words would slam shut the door on same-sex marriage in a traditionally bellwether state. Conservatives feel a Prop 22 failure (or even a slim victory) could create a climate favorable to same-sex marriage in California and, if the bellwether rings true, the nation.

In an interview with The Advocate, a magazine for homosexuals, Fox Party of Five actor Mitchell Anderson said the battle to legalize gay marriage in California is already underway. "Some people think the fight for legalization of [gay] marriage is way down the line, and they don't want to spend time and energy and money," said the homosexual actor, who wants to legally marry his boyfriend. "My answer to that is, 'Too bad. It's here. It's now.'"

According to Mark Washburn, president of the pro-family Capitol Resource Institute in Sacramento, homosexual activists in the Golden State are already gathering signatures to amend the California constitution to legalize same-sex marriage. Previous efforts to redefine marriage at the ballot box have fallen short in Hawaii, Maine, and Alaska.

But in California, a series of pro-gay legislative victories may have tipped the scales in the other direction. Democratic governor Gray Davis (who ran from the center, but governs from the left) has signed into law measures that, among other things, establish taxpayer-funded "domestic partner" benefits for homosexual employees of the state, bar from state funds any school or organization that refuses to hire homosexuals, and require even employees of Christian-owned businesses to submit to homosexual "diversity training."

Mr. Washburn believes the quick advance of the gay agenda will motivate more California conservatives to sound off on election day. "There's concern in the faith community that a loss or narrow win for Prop 22 will be viewed by the other side as an opportunity," he says. Many conservatives believe that "if we're unable to validate the institution of marriage for what it is, then the other side will begin to try to validate it for what it's not."

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