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Training to combat 2006 ballot measure begins 

Most local voters are just now familiarizing themselves with the upcoming November statewide elections. But one group has their sights set on next June, and a controversial ballot measure that would change the state's constitution and eliminate the rights of domestic partners and permanently ban same-sex marriage.

Last weekend about 40 opponents of the measure gathered at Cal Poly to learn the basics of running a political campaign. Over two days, organizers from Equality California and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force taught skills ranging from house-party fund-raising, to using precinct maps to canvas, to using personal stories to explain the effects of the measure.

"We explain what we want through talking - it's really the most powerful tool. Who doesn't want to go out and talk to their neighbors," said Thalia Zepatos, deputy director of organizing training with the Task Force the evening before the event.

The measure - which backers call the "Voters' Right to Protect Marriage Initiative" but the state attorney general calls " Marriage. Elimination of Domestic Partnership Rights" - is currently waiting for validation by the attorney general's office.

If passed by voters, it would change California's constitution, and explicitly ban any type of marriage except between one man and one woman.

The measure would also eliminate most of the rights the state's heterosexual and same-sex domestic partners have. On the chopping block would be rights involving property, adoption, child custody, child support, health care decisions, insurance benefits, and death benefits.

Event organizers say participants ages ranged from 16 to 68, came from as far away as Ventura, and included church groups and a mother and daughter team.

Molly McKay, field director with Equality California, said the most difficult part of learning to run a campaign like this is not understanding the technical aspects, but learning the self confidence to talk to strangers - a process she likened to jumping into a pool of cool water.

"We're going to be out funded and out staffed. But we have the power of truth on our side," Zepatos said of the upcoming year. "There are very few times when a person's entire life is up for vote."

To contact members of the campaign, visit eqca.org, or e-mail David Kilburn at slo@eqca.org.

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