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Prop 8 proponents, opposition begin organizing for Nov. 3 showdown

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They haven't decided yet on a campaign slogan. It's still a split between "Marriage = Man + Woman. Vote Yes on Prop. 8." Or, "Defend California Families: Vote Yes on Prop. 8."

Once they do, the Sonoma County Republican Party plans to launch its campaign in support of the proposition, which, if passed, would again define marriage in the state as solely between a man and a woman.

"What is at stake is quite literally the cultural definition of the family," said party chairman Michael Erickson, also county director of Yes on Prop. 8.

Volunteers at the party's Sonoma County Fair booth Friday signed up potential voters, and by early August plan to be equipped with Yes on Prop. 8 yard signs, pamphlets, door hangers, precinct walkers and call lists.

That's also when the opposing side, the No on 8 Coalition of Sonoma County, will begin its push against the initiative.

"I haven't met anyone opposed to same-sex marriages. But then again, I run in particular circles," said No on 8 organizer Rita Butterfield.

Her circle launched the local opposition campaign earlier this summer, within her Santa Rosa church, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation.

Butterfield is a member of the liberal church's social justice committee and the wife of its reverend, Chris Bell.

It all began with a booth at the Sonoma County Pride festival, she said, and a clipboard of signatures. Then some waited at the county clerk's office June 16, when the state Supreme Court's ruling legalizing same-sex marriage went into effect. They passed out wedding favors to newly married couples.

A few events and more than 200 local same-sex marriages later, opposition members have collected up to 300 signatures from locals willing to volunteer time to help defeat the ballot initiative.

They will meet at 7 p.m. Monday at the church for a planning session. Allies include Christ Church United Methodist, New Hope Metropolitan Church, Congregation Shomrei Torah and the group Equality for All.

Butterfield said their focus will be phone calls to undecided voters and women unaffiliated with a political party.

Perhaps someone like Rosa Mejia, 35, of Santa Rosa, who walked the fair's midway with her kids Friday. She said she's not sure how she would vote on Prop. 8. But, she added, gays and lesbians "are free to do whatever they like. They should have the same rights as everybody else."

Voters undecided about the initiative make up a slim margin of both parties, according to the most recent Field Poll.

They represent a key demographic that could make all the difference, said organizers from both sides. So do Latinos, who particularly in central and southern counties helped to resoundingly pass Prop. 22 in 2000, an initiative that defined marriage as between a man and woman.

In the July 18 Field Poll, 49 percent of Latinos said they would vote for Prop. 8 while 13 percent were undecided.

The county's Republican Committee is the first in the state to pass a resolution in support of Prop. 8, said member Dick Sutter. It plans to hold a campaign planning session at its headquarters Aug. 21.

It also plans to recruit Democrats, independents and younger voters, "people who normally may not vote for Republican candidates and issues who will help to pass Prop. 8 in a year that may not be good for Republicans otherwise," Erickson said.

The issue may be contentious enough to "galvanize voters to consider the Republican ticket," he said.

Republicans Carol Rutherford, 67, of Windsor and her husband, Jack, paused at their party's booth at the fair Friday to offer their support.

They agreed with volunteer Doug Mittar that Republicans are an "endangered species" in Sonoma County. But, they're not terribly concerned about same-sex marriage.

"I wish they would just have another name than 'marriage,' " she said. "They can have the union and taxes and all the rest it, but just keep the term 'marriage' for a man and woman."

Her husband agreed, but they are more concerned about issues of national security and want the U.S. to stay in Iraq.

The national gay and lesbian Republican group, Log Cabin Republicans, is hoping to woo such Republicans with its alternate campaign against the proposition.

"Not all Republicans are for Prop. 8, some believe in fundamental freedoms protected for all in California, that's what this issue boils down to," said Scott Schmidt, a member of its Los Angeles board of directors.

The group plans to target coastal communities, where polling shows 27 percent of Republicans would vote against Prop. 8, Schmidt said.

They plan to launch their campaign in August, around the time Daniel Garcia, 42, of Petaluma will be sending letters to his family members. And to relatives of his husband, Frank Benjamin, 45.

They were married July 3. Garcia said he comes from a "very large" Mexican family that has grown accustomed to them as a couple over 13 years.

But outreach is important for gay couples who want to see the proposition defeated, he said.

"Latino people are very highly traditional, especially the older generation, and that stems from a very strong Catholic upbringing," Garcia said.

"The most power I have to convince is not so much with a stranger, but with my family."

You can reach Staff Writer Shadi Rahimi at 521-5280 or shadi.rahimi@pressdemocrat

.com.

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