By Lisa Leff Associated Press

2 straight students get go-ahead from state official to start collecting signatures to get initiative on the ballot to repeal Prop 8 and take ‘marriage’ out of government’s hands

SAN FRANCISCO — California’s top election official gave two Southern California college students the go-ahead Tuesday, March 10 to start collecting signatures for a proposed ballot initiative that would end marriage as a state-sanctioned institution.

Ali Shams, 22, a senior at the University of California, San Diego, and Kaelan Housewright, 21, a student at the California Institute of the Arts, want all couples to be eligible only for domestic partnerships, the designation now reserved for elderly couples and same-sex couples who can not legally wed.

The two friends, who say they are straight, submitted their proposal to the secretary of state in late December in response to the gay marriage ban that California voters approved in November.

Their constitutional amendment would repeal the ban, known as Proposition 8, and strike the word "marriage" from licenses, tax forms and other state documents while retaining the rights and responsibilities of marriage for domestic partners.

"The purpose of which is to provide equality amongst all couples, regardless of sexual orientation, without offending the religious sect," the pair wrote in their application for an initiative title and summary. "Legally speaking, ‘Marriage’ itself would become a social ceremony, recognized by only non-governmental institutions."

Secretary of State Debra Bowen said the pair must gather nearly 700,000 signatures by early August to get the initiative on the June 2010 primary ballot.

The sponsors of Proposition 8 spent over $2 million last year collecting the signatures they needed to qualify the gay marriage ban for last year’s ballot. Its passage superseded the California Supreme Court decision that led to same-sex couples being allowed to marry for 41/2 months before Election Day.

Shams, a political science major who hopes to go on to law school, said Tuesday that they plan to rely at first on volunteers to circulate petitions. They have created a Facebook group for the initiative, which has drawn support from both people who voted for and against Proposition 8.

"Ours is more like a compromise that mediates the two sides," he said. "This isn’t a gay rights campaign, it’s an equal rights campaign. You can see it as an attack on marriage, but you can also see it as protecting marriage because we are taking it out of the battlefield."

Shams said he was motivated to get involved in the contentious issue after seeing how devastated a friend was after Proposition 8’s passage.

"I made her a promise that when I became a lawyer I would change the law, but then I thought that would be in five years, which is not soon enough to help her," he said.

Several scholars have suggested making marriage only a religious institution as a way to settle the problem of having same-sex couples treated unequally under the law.

But Housewright and Shams’ effort is unlikely to get immediate backing from established gay rights groups, which are awaiting a decision in several legal challenges to Proposition 8 before deciding whether to ask voters to overturn the measure.

"We are committed to marriage, marriage equality, and we aren’t interested in taking away anybody’s rights," said Andrea Shorter, a coordinator with Equality California, the state’s largest gay rights group. "We are calling for equal rights for everyone and we don’t want to settle for anything less than marriage."

Frank Schubert, who managed the winning Proposition 8 campaign for a coalition of religious and conservative groups opposed to gay marriage, said eliminating marriage for everyone was "fundamentally a dumb idea" and unlikely to gain broad public support.

On the Net: Read the initiative:раскрутка сайта за 24 часа