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In California, gay marriage fight heats up

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"People everywhere are less and less uncomfortable with the idea [of same-sex marriage]," says Steve Smith, a key strategist for the campaign against Prop. 8. "People know more and more same-sex couples who are valid members of society – the ones who operate a small shop downtown or the fireman next door. They've seen so many couples who have been together 20, 30, 40 years get married and the world hasn't come to an end. So now the issue is, 'Don't end this opportunity for these people.' "

A close vote?

Californians first outlawed same-sex marriage in a voter initiative in 2000. But that vote was struck down in May by the state Supreme Court, which said the state can't deny marriage to a couple on the basis of gender.

An estimated 11,000 same-sex couples have married in California since then.

A recent Survey USA poll showed 47 percent of Californians supported the new ballot initiative and 42 percent opposed it.

Formal studies have shown that polls have underestimated the pro-traditional-marriage vote by an average of 7 percent over the past several years. That is based on the observation that many respondents don't want to tell pollsters how strongly they feel about conventional marriage.

However, new voters, especially from young and minority groups, have been brought into politics this year by Barack Obama. Which of them show up on voting day could also affect the outcome.

Younger voters tend to be more liberal while black voters tend to be more conservative about this issue, says John Neu, a political scientist at Whittier College.

Some critics of the measure say the only reason it is on the ballot is that the state Supreme Court was inappropriately activist about the issue.

"It's obvious that … in this case the judicial branch has overstepped its bounds and is legislating from the bench," says Dr. Godzich. "The people of California in 2000 spoke their desires [in approving Prop. 22 in 2000] and these judges are overturning their will."

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