LOS ANGELES — With Democrat Barack Obama favored to win the White House race in California, the state's biggest election day battle is shaping up to be a referendum seeking to ban gay marriage.
"Proposition 8" is being trumpeted by conservative groups in the Golden State as the people's way of overturning the state Supreme Court's ruling in May that legalized gay marriage.
The court's ruling overturned an earlier plebiscite in 2000 when 61 percent of voters agreed marriage should be defined as being between a man and a woman.
Entitled "Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry," the referendum calls for the California constitution to be amended by adding: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."
The "Yes" vote campaign -- targeting such groups as California's Hispanic community, which makes up more than 30 percent of the state's population of 37 million and which voted overwhelmingly against gay marriage in 2000 -- has picked up speed since August.
According to a poll last week by the Public Policy Institute of California, 52 percent of Californians will vote "No" to banning gay marriage, while 44 percent would check the "Yes" column, with a three-point margin of error.
Gay couples are nervously watching the outcome of the referendum, as thousands have tied the knot in California since June, and uncertainty reins over their future legal status if the state's constitution is amended.
Both sides have poured nearly 60 million dollars into their campaigns, making this the costliest state referendum in the country, and one of the most bitterly fought.
Hollywood stars including Brad Pitt, Steven Spielberg and Ellen DeGeneres, as well as multinational companies like Apple have flocked to the "No" camp with donations of up to 100,000 dollars.
Comedienne DeGeneres married her long-time girlfriend Portia de Rossi at a private ceremony in California in August.
Hoping to persuade more Hispanics to vote, several Hispanic film and television stars have joined the campaign to defeat the proposal.
Voting "No" on Proposition 8 means "protecting the integrity of equal rights in this country. It's not about being gay or heterosexual, it's about being an American," "Ugly Betty" star America Ferrera says in a television ad alongside o-stars Tony Plana and Ana Ortiz.
But Conservative groups have also crafted many of their adverts in Spanish, targeting the Hispanic community and its traditional Christian and family values.
"Proposition 8 contains the same words that were passed in 2000 by 61 percent of voters in California, the majority of whom were Hispanic, like you," says one of the adverts.
ProtectMarriage.com, a coalition of pro-family religious and educational groups, said the ban would "protect our children from being taught in public schools that 'same-sex marriage' is the same as traditional marriage."
Hard-hitting campaign ads focusing on children though have drawn anger from local officials.
"Let me be clear, there is nothing in California state law that would require the teaching of marriage and that will not change," California State School Board President Ted Mitchell said.
"These ads are ridiculous and they are an insult to California voters," he added in a statement.
And State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said campaign ads focusing on kindergarten children "are alarming and irresponsible. Our public schools are not required to teach about marriage."
"Since they lack arguments to support their discriminatory proposal, they resort to fear using children and targeting Hispanics, in their campaign of lies," said Monica Trasandes, spokeswoman for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).
By last week, referendum backers had won 27.5 million dollars in funding — 10 million alone from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) — while the "No" group had amassed 31.2 million dollars, she told AFP.
Copyright © 2008 AFP