The group that persuaded California voters this month to pass Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage, now is fighting its friends as well as its foes.
Other conservative groups that loudly backed Prop. 8 are being targeted as too extreme and off-putting by ProtectMarriage.com, which put the constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot and hopes to help persuade the state Supreme Court to uphold the measure.
"We represent the people who got things done, who got Prop. 8 passed," said Andrew Pugno, general counsel for the Yes on Prop. 8 campaign. "An important part of defending Prop. 8 is eliminating arguments not helpful to our concerns."
Pugno, for example, persuaded the Supreme Court last week to bar the Campaign for California Families from intervening in the court case over the validity of Prop. 8 and the same-sex marriage ban.
"That organization represents the extreme fringe and is not representative of the coalition that got it passed," Pugno said. "They didn't even support Prop. 8 until sometime in the summer."
People associated with the group didn't expect the Prop. 8 campaign's efforts to push them to the sidelines.
"I'm surprised, because we've litigated beside each other for 4 1/2 years" in the unsuccessful effort to keep the Supreme Court from overturning Prop. 22 same-sex marriage ban in 2000, said Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, which represents the Campaign for California Families. "We have the same goal, which is to defend Prop. 8."
The group, now known as the Campaign for Children and Families, is run by Randy Thomasson, who for years has been one of California's most visible opponents of gay rights and what he bills as "the homosexual agenda."
The people behind Prop. 8 have been butting heads with Thomasson for years, arguing that his efforts to outlaw same-sex marriage and curb domestic partnership arrangements are a long step further than a majority of California voters is willing to go.
In 2005 and again in January, Thomasson and his allies proposed initiatives that not only would bar same-sex marriage but that also "voids or makes unenforceable" rights conferred by California law on couples, gay or heterosexual, registered as domestic partners, including community property, child custody, hospital visitation and insurance benefits.
"It was like the nuclear option to obliterate the entire domestic partners law," Pugno said. "We were constantly hassled by that organization, who thought we weren't aggressive enough."
Limiting the range of the ballot measure - and making a point to avoid direct attacks on gays, lesbians and same-sex couples during the campaign - made political sense for the Prop. 8 strategists.
Of the 31 "defense of marriage" measures that have gone on ballots across the nation, the only one that lost was a 2006 Arizona constitutional amendment that also would have banned legal recognition of many domestic partnership benefits. When Arizona groups put a measure on the Nov. 4 ballot aimed solely at barring same-sex marriage, it passed easily.
A Field Poll released in May showed that nearly a third of California voters opposed same-sex marriage, but still believed gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to have civil unions granting them the rights of married couples. Surveys done earlier this year by GOP pollsters also showed that any measure attacking domestic partnership rights had little or no chance of passing in California.
"We wanted to be singularly focused on defending and protecting marriage," Pugno said.
Policy disputes shouldn't spill over into public attacks, said Staver.
"The CCF originally had a version of the marriage amendment that was much larger and comprehensive, but they abandoned that and supported Prop. 8," he said. "Different people have different views. Moving in the same direction to protect marriage is more important than singing from the same song sheet."
But the disputes between the groups have grown in the past few days, with Thomasson launching an all-out attack against the Supreme Court for accepting the challenge to Prop. 8, a court decision Pugno and others from ProtectMarriage.com had welcomed.
"If the court disobeys the constitution by voiding Prop. 8, it will ignite a voter revolt," Thomasson said in statement released after the court agreed Wednesday to hear arguments over the validity of the constitutional amendment. "The court is playing with fire by threatening to destroy the people's vote on marriage."
Pugno and others from the Prop. 8 campaign want to avoid such fiery challenges and threats to the court and keep matters on a quiet legal level until the court rules on same-sex marriage sometime after March.
"What we are not doing is discussing the possibility of recalling justices who oppose us," Ron Prentice, chairman of the Yes on Prop. 8 effort, said in an e-mail to supporters Wednesday. "Making threats to recall justices from office is counterproductive and harmful to our chances of winning in court."
Money also is part of the dispute. While ProtectMarriage.com collected almost all of the nearly $40 million raised to back Prop. 8, Thomasson's group and others gathered money to support their own efforts to pass the same-sex marriage ban.
But Prentice argued that "some other groups are attempting to use the passage of Prop. 8 for fundraising and publicity purposes," and Pugno said his group had unsuccessfully tried to stop the groups from claiming they were part of the official Prop. 8 effort.
Ballot measures don't belong to anyone or any group, Staver argued for the Campaign for Children and Families.
"There were a lot of different organizations and people that supported Prop. 8, but not through the official campaign," he said. "Did we give money directly to them? No. But did we encourage people to support Prop. 8? Absolutely."
E-mail John Wildermuth at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page B - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle