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As a bill that would legalize same-sex marriages in California made historic progress this week, lawyers opposing it vowed Wednesday to be ready at the courthouse should the governor sign it into law. The day after the state Assembly passed the gut-and-amend bill that would remove gender requirements for marriage, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger indicated he will veto it. But in the event of a last-minute reversal, the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund — which has so far invested more than a year in courts to defend California’s ban on same-sex marriage — stood ready to file suit. “We will be in court within hours challenging the law,” Alliance senior counsel Jordan Lorence said Wednesday, hours before the governor made his veto plan clear. Last year, Lorence was one of the lawyers to successfully argue before the California Supreme Court that San Francisco should not be allowed to perform same-sex marriages unless the current state laws banning such unions are overturned. His organization and others are fighting over the constitutionality of those laws at the 1st District Court of Appeal. Erik Stanley, the chief counsel of Liberty Counsel, another group opposing gay marriage, also predicted “an immediate challenge,” and said his organization “would love to” be involved. Late Wednesday, Schwarzenegger Press Secretary Margita Thompson said the governor would veto AB 849. “The governor believes the matter should be determined not by legislative action — which would be unconstitutional — but by court decision or another vote of the people of our state,” she said in a statement. AB 849 — the third attempt by Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, to pass a bill legalizing gay marriage — is the first such bill to be initiated and passed by a state legislature, supporters say. It may not be the last, though. “I think there’s going to be an annual attempt,” Lorence said. And if such a law was signed, opponents would no doubt be ready to file suit. He and Stanley said any suit would likely challenge the Legislature’s authority to pass a law legalizing gay marriage. They point to Proposition 22, an initiative passed in 2000 with 61 percent of the vote that declared that different-gender marriages were the only marriages “valid or recognized in California.” “Under the California Constitution, a proposition that is validly passed by voters � can only be altered or amended or repealed by the voters,” Stanley said. But the two sides in the fight to define marriage in California disagree over whether Prop 22 covers the same ground AB 849 does — marriages performed in California. Gay marriage supporters have argued that Prop 22 only speaks to which out-of-state marriages California will recognize. “We’re very confident that Prop 22 doesn’t govern here,” said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, one of the groups that support gay marriage. In the challenges to the status quo that are pending before the 1st District, Kors pointed out that a San Francisco trial judge has already ruled Prop 22 unconstitutional. “We’re confident that those rulings would be upheld.” Even Schwarzenneger’s signature on AB 849 wouldn’t necessarily end the 1st District litigation, according to one of the lawyers involved in those cases. The governor’s veto would leave the current ban on gay marriage intact, noted San Francisco Deputy City Attorney Sherri Sokeland Kaiser, one of the lawyers arguing in support of same-sex marriages. If a law legalizing gay marriage were to be enacted, but Prop 22 were found to supersede it, gay marriage supporters would have to get Prop 22 thrown out on constitutional grounds, she said. In any case, the constitution could still prove to be the trump card, the Alliance Defense Fund’s Lorence said. Any legalization of gay marriage could fuel the current effort to ban it by amending the state constitution. “I think the initiative process is going to have the final say on whether there is same-sex marriage in California or not,” he said.

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