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While legislative Democrats hailed the California Supreme Court’s decision Thursday, both they and critics of the ruling warned that the battle over gay marriage in California is far from over. Gay marriage opponents are confident that they have gathered enough signatures to place a state constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would supersede the justices’ ruling and outlaw same-sex unions. “We celebrate tonight and get back to work tomorrow because we have a tough fight ahead of us,” said Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco. Leno has tried three times, unsuccessfully, to enact “gender-neutral” marriage legislation since 2004. Ron Prentice, chairman of the coalition trying to qualify the ballot measure, said initiative supporters submitted more than 1.1 million signatures to county registrars in April and hope to have the required tally certified by next month. Prentice said he expects lawyers representing the coalition and the Alliance Defense Fund to ask the Supreme Court in the coming weeks to stay its ruling until the November vote so that no same-sex marriages can be performed in the interim. “This is a huge decision, not only in the state of California but the entire nation,” he said. ProtectMarriage.com, the group pushing the constitutional amendment, raised more than $1.5 million between January and March to launch the initiative and finance signature-gathering. Major donors included Fieldstead and Co., a nonprofit run by Orange County millionaire Howard Ahmanson Jr.; Colorado-based Focus on the Family; and the National Organization for Marriage, which fights attempts to legalize same-sex unions nationwide. “We expect even more financial support” for a November campaign, Prentice said. Gay and lesbian rights groups collected more than $576,000 during the first three months of this year to fight the initiative, campaign records show. “I have every good faith and confidence that voters will recognize that this is a fringe group” backing the marriage-ban initiative, Leno said. “Our families are challenged these days. Our homes are challenged. Our jobs are challenged. … Marriage licenses for loving same-sex couples is not the problem.” A well-financed initiative campaign could boost what is already expected to be a record voter turnout for the presidential election in November. Socially conservative Republicans disillusioned with moderate GOP candidate John McCain may now show up at the polls in California to vote for the gay marriage ban, said Allan Hoffenblum, who owns a Los Angeles political consulting firm. “Democrats are trying to pick up some Republican-controlled [legislative] seats and this might hinder them,” he said. The court decision and November initiative may spell bad news for Democrats outside of California, too, analysts said. “California is so important nationally, not because of what happens here but because the policy issues spill out across the nation,” said David McCuan, an assistant professor of political science and initiative expert at Sonoma State University. “This becomes a tool for turning people out at the polls. Karl Rove couldn’t have drawn a better scenario.” Sen. Barack Obama, the leading Democratic candidate for president, issued a statement Thursday saying that he supports civil unions but thinks states “should make their own decisions” on marriage. Unlike the governor, the controller, the treasurer and more than a dozen state lawmakers, Attorney General Jerry Brown did not issue a press release on the ruling. “The attorney general will work with the governor and other state agencies to implement the ruling,” Brown spokesman Gareth Lacy said Thursday. Brown, a potential candidate for governor in 2010, has told gay and lesbian groups that he does not oppose same-sex marriage. And in defending the state’s gay marriage ban, his office broke with the governor in suggesting that the ban required a higher level of constitutional scrutiny. In California, the number of adults who support gay marriage rose from 38 percent in 2000 to 45 percent in June 2007, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. Still, 49 percent of state residents surveyed last year by PPIC said they oppose extending marriage rights to gays and lesbians. The initiative’s fate may actually hinge on whether Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger campaigns against it, said Hoffenblum. On Thursday, Schwarzenegger issued a short statement, saying, “I respect the court’s decision, and as governor, I will uphold its ruling,” and reiterating that he’s opposed to the proposed constitutional amendment. Hoffenblum noted that in 1978, California voters’ initial support for the so-called Briggs initiative, which would have barred gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools, turned after former Gov. Ronald Reagan, a Republican, publicly announced his opposition. “It’ll be interesting to see how [initiative opponents] use Schwarzenegger, who’s still relatively popular,” Hoffenblum said. “We’re not going to have a boring November election, that’s for sure.”

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