SAN FRANCISCO – California gay rights groups are at odds over when to ask voters to repeal the state's same-sex marriage ban, with one of the largest organizations saying Wednesday it would wait until 2012 and another announcing it would shoot for 2010.
Activists have been divided for months over when to go back to the polls after voters approved Proposition 8 last fall. Some are concerned that support and interest will wane by 2012, while others worry that next year is too soon to launch another expensive fight.
One of the largest and most influential groups, Equality California, said Wednesday that holding off gives organizers more time to raise money and canvass voters. The group said turnout in a presidential election year will be higher than in next year's gubernatorial race and include more young people who tend to favor gay marriage.
"Emotionally, we all want to win marriage back as quickly as possible," said Marc Solomon, Equality California's marriage director. "We really think that we have a shot in the next three years. But we have one shot, we don't have two shots. We're not waiting at all. We're going hard. But we think the campaign is a three-year campaign."
Meanwhile, Los Angeles-based Courage Campaign announced in an e-mail to supporters Wednesday it would push to get a measure on the 2010 ballot.
"Now it's time to keep this marriage equality momentum going," said campaign chairman Rick Jacobs.
The anger over losing marriage rights only months after the California Supreme Court ruled to allow them — as well as the momentum from legalization in several other states — have been strong arguments to launch the earliest campaign possible. Even Equality California was eyeing 2010 immediately after Proposition 8 passed.
The possibility of a gay marriage supporter leading the Democratic ticket for governor — San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom or Attorney General Jerry Brown — had also been a consideration in the decision.
But Solomon said recent interviews with donors, sympathetic clergy, political consultants and organizations that work with gay families showed that pursuing the 2012 ballot is the smartest approach.
Proposition 8 passed in November with 52 percent of the vote and cost supporters and opponents $83 million.
In a bad economy, Solomon said it is unrealistic to quickly raise the needed cash — likely $40 million to $50 million — especially when contributors are being pressed to give to social organizations whose budgets have been slashed.
Both groups allowed for a possible change in strategy. Solomon said he would not rule out playing a role if an initiative does make it to the ballot next year.
And Jacobs said before his group can take the battle in California to the ballot box, it must help other states fighting to legalize same-sex marriage, including Maine, where gay marriage opponents are hoping to force a vote in November to outlaw the nuptials.
In May, Maine became poised to recognize same-sex marriages when lawmakers set aside a state law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
In California, 2010 vs. 2012 debate has largely been between newer, grassroots campaigns that have been increasingly active since the election and the larger gay rights groups like Equality California. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force also has urged activists to wait until 2012.
A coalition of black, Asian and Latino activists recently outlined their desire to wait, saying next year would be "rushed and risky," and persuading minority communities "requires time to build trust and relationships."
Last week, Jacobs wrote to supporters saying the campaign needed to raise $200,000 to enter that race. On Wednesday, Jacobs said the Courage Campaign raised $77,905 Tuesday, for a total of $135,998, "that we will immediately invest in research, polling and focus groups to repeal Prop 8."
John Henning, head of Love Honor Cherish and one of the most passionate voices for pursuing 2010, said his group also would continue to look to 2010.
"If you tell people that they're going to have to wait, a lot of people are going to lose interest," he said. "They're going to make other commitments, they're going to get the message that this isn't important enough to act now."