By Chris Rizo
SACRAMENTO -- Legislation that would create a parallel system of marriage for gay couples in California is raising a political fury between Democratic lawmakers and conservative voices who say marriage should only exist between a man and a woman.
If lawmakers approve Assembly Bill 1338, by West Hollywood Democrat Assemblyman Paul Koretz and co-authored by Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Rosemead, California could be on its way to becoming the second state in the nation to allow same-sex unions.
But, with less than two months to gather expectedly scant votes before the state Assembly must decide on the polemic bill's fate, observers say it's unlikely that the measure will go anywhere this year, given the politically moderate-controlled Legislature and a predictably centrist governor. The bill must be off the Assembly floor by the end of January.
Morris Kight, a longtime gay activist and head of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, said he fears that Gov. Gray Davis' bid for re-election may hamper the bill's progress.
"Gov. Davis has not been very enthusiastic about gay marriages," Kight said.
He added: while the governor needs to be "sensitive to the electorate," he needs to acknowledge the rights of all Californians -- gay and straight.
"Gay marriage is really an issue that time and patients will decide," Kight said. "It's revolutionary that the issue is even being discussed at this level."
A longtime supporter of gay rights, Romero supported an expansion of domestic partner rights earlier this year, which gave registered couples a dozen protections previously enjoyed only by married couples.
But, this measure, the California Family Protection Act, would give same-sex couples roughly 1,500 marriage-related benefits, including the ability to make decisions on behalf of their partner in the event of medical urgency, file joint state tax returns, sue for wrongful death and share property titles.
"This bill is about fairness," said Romero spokesman Ignacio Hernandez. "Devoted couples should not be denied the opportunity to publicly declare their commitments."
Conservatives say when Californians voted to ban recognition of gay marriages in 2000, the debate over civil unions also ended.
"California voters spoke loud and clear when they approved Proposition 22," said Randy Thomasson of Campaign for California Families.
"Civil unions are simply homosexual marriage by another name."
Thomasson has gathered 31 signatures from state lawmakers pledging to oppose the Vermont-style civil union bill. Among them: Sen. Bob Margett and Assembly members Dennis Mountjoy, R-Arcadia; and Robert Pacheco, R-Industry.
Margett, R-Arcadia, said lawmakers should refuse spousal-equivalent benefits to gay couples not out of spite for homosexuals, but out of respect for the voters.
"There is no law prohibiting people from being lifelong companions, but marriage should just be between a man and a woman," Margett said.
Even so, Koretz said when voters approved the initiative, they were not seeking to disallow rights to gay and lesbian couples but only sought to protect an institution that for many is of religious importance.
"Same-sex couples deserve equal treatment, legal recognition of their families -- the same legal recognition that my wife and I were granted when we committed our lives to each other," Koretz said.