The announcement came Tuesday after committees of state lawmakers rejected a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriages and strip away a long list of rights granted to domestic partners in recent years.
"This disturbing display of arrogance against marriage and the voters means average Californians must take matters into their own hands," said Randy Thomasson, president of the Campaign for Children and Families (search).
But Democratic state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, the first openly gay person elected to the Legislature, predicted otherwise. "This is about America, the place where no civil rights movement has ever failed," she said.
The Assembly Judiciary Committee rejected an amendment offered by Republican Assemblyman Ray Haynes, who claimed the proposal would strengthen the intent of voters who approved a ballot measure five years ago that prevents the state from recognizing gay marriages performed elsewhere.
Hours later, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted against an identical measure.
Other laws already bar same-sex marriages from taking place in California.
Opponents of the amendment said it was an attempt to repeal domestic partners' rights. Since 1999, the Legislature has approved a series of bills recognizing domestic partnerships and granting them most of the rights given married couples, including the right to sue for wrongful death of a partner and to adopt a partner's child.
Democratic Assemblyman Lloyd Levine said the proposed amendment amounted to "legalizing discrimination."
"The fact is plain and simple," he said. "There is a group of people who, for whatever reason, do not like gays and cannot tolerate the idea of two women sleeping together or two men sleeping together. To put that into the constitution... is simply unconscionable."
Meanwhile, in Raleigh, N.C., hundreds of people rallied behind the Legislative Building on Tuesday to urge legislators to allow them to vote on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
An election on the proposed constitutional amendment appears unlikely. Two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate are needed to authorize a statewide vote, but referendum bills filed in both chambers have sat in committees for three months without action.
North Carolina already has a law banning same-sex marriages and the state doesn't recognize gay marriages performed in other states.