Party split on same-sex marriage ban; GOP officials oppose Prop. 22

Hallye Jordan, Mercury News Sacramento Bureau, San Jose Mercury News
January 28, 2000 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

SACRAMENTO – Ronald Reagan they're not. But a group of Republican Party leaders hopes their late opposition to the March ballot measure that would ban same-sex marriages will turn the tide against the initiative, much as Reagan did under similar political circumstances 22 years ago. His last-minute opposition sunk a 1978 GOP initiative that would have barred gay and lesbian teachers from California classrooms.

Joining with Ward Connerly, the University of California regent who spearheaded the drive to abolish affirmative action in California, local party representatives announced their opposition to Proposition 22 on Thursday, bucking the California Republican Party and the California Republican Assembly. Their key complaint? The initiative ratchets up governmental intrusion into personal lives – an idea, they said, which contradicts the core beliefs of conservatives.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, another figure came forward to object to Proposition 22 on different grounds. Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student whose savage beating and abandonment lashed to a range fence shocked the nation, called the proposition "another seed of fear and ignorance."

To counter Shepard, sponsors of the measure arranged an interview with Tom Beddingfield of San Jose, a gay man who supports Proposition 22. He said Proposition 22 has nothing to do with hate, intolerance or discrimination, but was simply a statement of the state's right to define marriage.

But that is the very problem that the opposing Republicans said they had. Greg Zlotnick, state president of the California Republican League, a voluntary group representing almost 1,000 moderate Republicans, said members of the organization voted to oppose Proposition 22 in part because they were troubled that the initiative attempts to blur the separation between church and state.

"What this does is not allow same-sex couples the same access to... (the) state sanction of relationships, (to) the rights and responsibilities that marriage provides," said Zlotnick, a member of the Santa Clara Valley Water District board. "In fact, you can go down to a clerk's office without any involvement of a church or synagogue or mosque and get married. We thought it was important to make a statement that said same-sex couples should have that same opportunity."

State Assemblyman Jim Cunneen, R-Campbell, said he personally believes that marriage is between a man and a woman, but agrees that it is the church's role to bless those unions, while government should ensure civil contracts provide equal rights for all couples, regardless of their sexual orientation.

The two are the latest to join a growing list of Republicans who have bucked their colleagues in opposing the initiative, sponsored by Republican state Sen. William "Pete" Knight of Palmdale. Others include former state Sen. Becky Morgan and U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Campbell, who is challenging U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

The Proposition 22 campaign was quick to release a list of 56 GOP state and federal lawmakers who support the measure.

Connerly said the measure is inconsistent with his successful drive to prohibit state agencies and universities from giving preference to employees and students based on their race or gender.

"Thirty-seven years ago I violated a societal taboo," said Connerly, an African-American. "My wife's skin is white, and I married her. That was against the law in virtually every state in this nation. And the same arguments that I heard then, I hear now: This will violate God's law. If God wanted people to cross racial lines, he wouldn't have made black and white. This is going to destroy civilization. None of that has come to pass."