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Anti-Gay groups are paying signature-gatherers in hopes of placing an initiative before voters in November to amend the California Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

Previous attempts to collect enough voter signatures to force a ballot vote have failed.

Gay leaders said the effort is being supported by NationForMarriage.org and ProtectMarriage.com.

"We are committed to a vigorous opposition campaign," said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California. "We are determined to make sure voters understand the very real pain that comes with marriage discrimination and how these types of amendments will only bring harm to California families."

According to the CEO of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, Lorri Jean, "Californians are tired of these costly and divisive campaigns."

"These out-of-state extremists continue to expend time and resources to write discrimination into our California Constitution," she said. "We believe voters will reject this measure and the politics of hate and division it represents."

Delores Jacobs, CEO of The San Diego LGBT Community Center, urged Californians to "reject these efforts by refusing to sign the petitions and talking with their friends and family members about why marriage discrimination is wrong."

Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said such an amendment "would enshrine discrimination for generations of Californians."

A New York appellate court ruled unanimously February 1 that the state must recognize same-sex marriages from countries that allow them - Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain and South Africa - and from Massachusetts, the only U.S. state that allows them.

"Congratulations to all same-sex couples validly married outside of New York state," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which filed the case. "You are now considered married in New York, as well."

The case, Martinez v. County of Monroe, was filed in 2005 on behalf of Patricia Martinez, an employee of Monroe Community College in Rochester, who married her wife, Lisa Golden, in Ontario and then was not allowed to add Golden to her health-insurance plan.

The case dealt solely with whether the time-honored "marriage recognition rule" applies to same-sex marriages.

"If a marriage is valid in the state or country in which the marriage took place, New York law generally requires the recognition of that marriage," said Arthur Eisenberg, the NYCLU's legal director. "This case involved a straightforward application of that principle."

Canada has no citizenship or residency requirements for getting married, and numerous U.S. same-sex couples have crossed the border and tied the knot, often in a one-day visit.

U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey has unbanned the Justice Department's Gay group, DOJ Pride, the Washington Post reported February 5.

In 2003, the group was barred from holding its annual pride-month celebration by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, who also reportedly prohibited the group from posting information on agency bulletin boards or using its e-mail system.

Ashcroft said it was unwritten department policy not to sponsor events without a presidential proclamation. The policy was continued under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who succeeded Ashcroft.

But Mukasey now has issued an equal-employment-opportunity policy prohibiting discrimination against any employee organization and has informed DOJ Pride of the change, the Post said.

In a statement, Mukasey said the Department of Justice will "foster an environment in which diversity is valued, understood and sought."

Same-sex couples in Oregon finally were able to begin using the state's registered-partnership law February 4.

It had been delayed for a month by anti-Gay activists who challenged the legal determination that they hadn't collected enough valid voter signatures to send the law to a ballot referendum.

In the end, the opponents' drive fell short 96 signatures.

The law grants registered couples the state-level rights of matrimony, including in such areas as inheritance and joint income-tax filing.

Five other states have same-sex civil-union or domestic-partnership laws that extend all or nearly all state-level rights and obligations of marriage: California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Vermont. In addition, three states (Maine, Hawaii and Washington) and the District of Columbia have laws that extend limited spousal rights to same-sex couples.

Massachusetts is the only state that lets Gay couples marry. Couples from most other states cannot marry there because of a racist state law from 1913 that prohibits people from marrying in Massachusetts "if [the] marriage would be void if contracted in" their home state.

Gay couples from Rhode Island and New Mexico are among those who can marry in Massachusetts, as those states have no laws specifically banning same-sex marriage, even if they don't offer it themselves.

The California Legislature has twice passed a bill legalizing full marriage for same-sex couples, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has twice vetoed it. A ruling by the California Supreme Court in a case seeking legalization of same-sex marriage will be issued by early June. The Gay activists working most directly on the court challenge see the court's signals in the case so far as encouraging.

Full same-sex marriage also is legal in Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, South Africa and Spain. Non-Canadian couples can get married in 12 of Canada's 13 provinces and territories during a one-day visit. The process takes longer in Quebec, although there is an approved way to circumvent the province's waiting period.

Numerous nations grant registered same-sex couples some, most or all rights and obligations of marriage under registered-partnership, domestic-partnership or civil-union laws. They include Andorra, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Greenland, a self-governing division of Denmark, also has a civil-union law. In yet other nations, such as Argentina, Australia, Brazil and Mexico, such rights are granted by city, state or provincial laws. Informal cohabitation of same-sex partners has become legally recognized in Austria, Colombia, Croatia, Hungary, Israel and Portugal - and in parts of Australia, Italy and the U.S.
picture top: Geoffrey Kors; picture middle: Joe Solmonese; picture bottom: Scott Long

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