The liberal advocacy group Courage Campaign played down Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman's announcement yesterday that she would defend Proposition 8, which prohibits same-sex marriage, if elected governor.
Courage Campaign director Rick Jacobs noted that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has already scheduled a hearing for the week of Dec. 6 to determine whether the initiative's sponsor, the advocacy group Protect Marriage, has legal standing to defend the voter-passed measure.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown are not defending the proposition in the courts. Chief Judge Vaughn Walker of the Northern District of California, who declared the proposition unconstitutional Aug. 4, had suggested that only the state could defend the law.
If elected, Whitman would take the oath of office on Jan. 3, although it remains unclear whether she could join the lawsuit as a defendant after the December hearing.
"She wouldn't be governor yet," Jacobs said. "The appeals court will decide before there would be a change of governor and attorney general."
UC Hastings College of the Law professor Rory Little said Whitman's ability to defend the proposition would hinge on several factors - the biggest of which, of course, is whether she becomes governor.
It would also depend on whether the 9th Circuit decides the standing issue before January 6 and how the court decides.
"There are a lot of ifs," Little said. "If the 9th Circuit hasn't decided the matter by December, she could attempt to file a brief to say, 'Now, the state of California enters the case.'"
The Courage Campaign is an official supporter of the main independent expenditure group opposing Whitman, California Working Families.
Jacobs said Whitman's announcement from yesterday bolstered the group's resolve to oppose Whitman, although it doesn't endorse candidates.
"You're going to see us making it clear that Meg Whitman is unqualified to be governor on any stand," Jacobs said.
Responding to a question from The Bee yesterday during a campaign stop, Whitman said, "The issue right now is, as I understand is 'Will Proposition 8 have the appropriate support to actually make an appeal to the circuit court of appeals?'And I think the governor, the attorney general today has to defend the constitution and has to enable the judicial process to go along and has to enable an appeal to go through. So if I was governor, I would give that ruling standing to be able to appeal to the circuit court."
Whitman's campaign later told The Bee that she would become a defendant in the appeal of Walker's ruling if needed.
The Proposition 8 issue has taken on extra sensitivity this weekend as the state Republican Party holds its semi-annual convention at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel in San Diego.
The hotel's owner, Doug Manchester, contributed $125,000 to the Proposition 8 campaign, and his 1,625-room hotel has been the subject of boycotts by people and groups opposed to the proposition. Some party officials have touted their selection of the hotel for the convention in defiance of the boycott.
In a small protest outside the hotel this morning, San Diego lawyer Charlie Pratt said he has rallied against several prominent figure appearing at the hotel. The 15 people at the protest were holding signs critical of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina.
"I was here when Al Gore spoke here," said Pratt, who says he's active in issues affecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. "I was also here when Bill Clinton was here, which I thought was disgusting. This is a big issue for me."
Photo: Protesters rally against U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina outside the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel in San Diego, where the state Republican Party holds its convention Aug. 21. (Jack Chang/Sacramento Bee)