California lawmakers are preparing a bill that would establish Vermont-style civil unions for homosexuals in the Golden State.

Civil unions are the “final frontier in equal rights,” Assemblyman Paul Koretz, the sponsor of the legislation, told a cheering group of homosexual rights advocates last month at Los Angeles City Hall. Koretz was speaking at the second hearing for his controversial bill, AB 1338.

A vote is expected in January. Last year, Vermont enacted the country’s only civil union law, which allows same-sex partners to have virtually the same rights as married couples.

Koretz has the legislative support of the “Lavender Caucus,” the name given to four openly lesbian lawmakers, Democratic Party state assembly members Christine Kehoe, Carole Midgen, and Jackie Goldberg, and state senator Sheila Kuehl.

At the Los Angeles hearing, Goldberg and her “partner of 22 years” both testified. With noticeable emotion, Goldberg recounted examples of “discrimination” they claim to face daily. Goldberg’s partner, Sharon, spoke of pain she suffered while raising a child that Goldberg had adopted before they met. “He would come to me and say, ‘Mommy, Mommy, sign my permission slip,’ and I had to tell him we had to wait until Jackie came home,” Goldberg said.

Jean Harris, executive director of the homosexual activist group California Alliance for Pride and Equality, said at the hearing that she and her allies will not rest until they have “the same basic rights across the board, whether we use the civil union approach or the domestic partners approach.”

Ground for homosexual marriage will be gained piece-by-piece, said Harris, and “all of these tactics are extremely important.”

Harris had harsh words for opponents such as Lou Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition, a family advocacy group in Orange County. Members of the “lesbian, gay, transgendered and bisexual community” are accustomed to “domestic terrorists” like Sheldon who “use God’s name to spread hate and fear and violence,” she charged.

At the hearing, Kuehl ridiculed the testimony of the Traditional Values Coalition’s Ben Lopez. “We hear a lot of garbage like we just heard from the last witness … concerning sort of a vague threat to civilization and the entire society by a number of rights being gained by same-sexed couples, one of which is some vague threat to marriage,” Kuehl said.

Koretz introduced AB 1338 last year, but pulled it from the legislative track and earmarked it as a two-year bill. His colleague in the California assembly, Jay LaSuer, insists that Koretz wanted another homosexual rights bill, AB 25, to pass first. That bill, signed by Gov. Gray Davis in October, gives unprecedented benefits to homosexuals who register with the state as domestic partners.

Nationwide, promoters of the traditional family are gearing up to defend marriage in California. If the bill becomes law it will have a major effect across the country, claimed Dimitri Kesari, director of state and local affairs for the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.

“What happens in California today, fortunately or unfortunately, will happen around the country in 20 years,” Kesari said. “California sort of sets things in motion for the rest of the country.”

Citizens of the state should “vigorously oppose” the bill, which “will destroy marriage as we know it today,” said Kesari, who insists that giving same-sex couples all the rights of marriage would degrade the institution.

“What would distinguish same-sex couples and married couples?” he asked. “The word marriage? That would be the only thing different.”

Calling the relationship a civil union rather than a marriage does not change matters legally, contended Gary Kreep, executive director of the United States Justice Foundation, an Escondido, Calif., legal advocacy group. Last year, California became one of more than 30 states to pass a defense of marriage law – known in California as the Knight Act or Proposition 22 – which asserts that marriage is only between a male and female.

But AB 1338 would “defacto legalize same sex marriage,” said Kreep. “The (proposed) law provides that in all respects same-sexed couples will have all rights that married couples have,” he said. “It’s semantics, what they are saying, that it is a civil union and not a marriage. … It is a word game that the liberals want to play.”

Some legal scholars agree that proponents of the bill are using semantics, but believe it will hold up to California’s defense of marriage law. “So long as the word marriage is not used, same-sexed civil unions do not violate the Knight Act,” University of Southern California Law School professor Ed Chemerinsky said at a hearing on the bill in Sacramento.

“This is nothing more than cheap semantics,” counters Karen Holgate, director of Capitol Resources Institute, a Sacramento-based pro-family group. “They know it’s marriage. They are just trying to violate the Knight Act and the will of California voters.”

Andrew Pugno of the Prop 22 Legal Defense Fund told WorldNetDaily that if AB 1338 became law, his group would file a lawsuit.

“It would seem like a fairly clear question whether AB 1338 would create same-sex marriage by a different label,” he said. “The issue for the court to decide is whether or not that is in the power of the legislature.”

Pugno believes the bill would create a situation similar to Vermont’s, where civil unions are a parallel institution to marriage, “identical in all respects.”

Proposition 22’s author, Sen. William J. Knight,, told WorldNetDaily he believes that AB 1338 is a direct assault on the defense of marriage law. He called the bill an end run around Proposition 22 that goes against the wishes of 62 percent of California voters. “This is a continuation of the gay and lesbian agenda,” Knight said. “The state should not be involved in this. The best way to raise children is to bring them up in a home with a mother and father.”

Holgate’s Capitol Resource Institute has posted a petition on its website. “We’re deeply concerned about this bill because it’s going to redefine marriage in California,” she said. “We are concerned about the message this is sending to children. The state of California will be telling our children that there is no difference between homosexual and heterosexual marriage. This bill will make a counterfeit of marriage.”

Holgate said she is particularly concerned about the attitude of some proponents of the bill. “The arrogance and disdain that Koretz and Sheila Kuehl are showing the voters of the state is unbelievable,” she said. “Koretz has made it very clear that his bill will affect over 1,500 laws regarding marriage. The fact that these people care more about their agenda than they do the will of the people – it just boggles the mind.”

Related stories:

California homosexual bills challenged

California bill redefines marriage

More benefits for California homosexuals

Legislators’s office: ‘You will burn in hell’

Protesters urge veto of pro-homosexual bills

‘California families’ win legislative battle

How to define ‘domestic partners’

Homosexuals win marriage benefits in Vermont

Maria Elena Kennedy, a journalist based in Southern California, writes about religion, politics and law for various outlets in California, including the Spanish language newspaper, La Cruz de Calfornia.

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