SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Friday that he would fight an initiative to amend the California Constitution to ban same-sex marriage if it qualifies for the November ballot.
Schwarzenegger has vetoed bills that would allow gay marriage but said he opposes the sort of amendments that are being proposed by two competing groups. Such amendments are already on the books in 26 states, but the governor said it would be a "waste of time" to pursue one in California.
"I will always be there to fight against that," Schwarzenegger said, prompting loud cheers and a standing ovation from about 200 people at the annual convention of the Log Cabin Republicans, the nation's largest gay Republican group.
The Austrian-born governor immediately cracked that he wished activists would instead focus on passing an amendment to allow naturalized citizens to run for president.
Both proposed initiatives would limit marriage to heterosexuals, and one measure would revoke the spousal rights and tax benefits currently extended to same-sex couples under state laws.
Schwarzenegger supports the current benefits for same-sex couples. In vetoing bills that would have legalized gay marriage, he has said he thinks the question should be up to voters or the courts, not lawmakers.
Geoffrey Kors, executive director of the gay rights group Equality California, said Schwarzenegger's opposition could help defeat a marriage ban or even prevent it from getting enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
"We were thrilled. We have been asking him to do this," said Kors, whose group's volunteers have been working to persuade people not to sign petitions for the proposed initiative. "The governor's support to defeat it is critical."
Kors said Schwarzenegger's stand has precedent. In 1978, former Republican Gov. Ronald Reagan came out against a ballot initiative that would have made it illegal for gay men and lesbians to work as teachers in California public schools, an act that "made gay rights issues nonpartisan," Kors said.
Proponents of the initiatives said Schwarzenegger is risking the ire of conservative voters.
"He says he'll veto legislation redefining marriage but now he says he'll fight a ballot measure protecting marriage," said Randy Thomasson, of VoteYesMarriage.com, whose amendment would revoke domestic-partnership benefits including hospital visitation, community property and child support. "He's pandering to this group."
Andrew Pugno, a lawyer for ProtectMarriage.com, said the intention of his group's less far-reaching amendment was simply to keep the existing definition of marriage approved by the Legislature from being overturned by the courts.
Both groups have until April 28 to gather signatures from 694,354 voters to qualify the measures for the November election.
Schwarzenegger is a defendant in a group of lawsuits brought by same-sex couples seeking to overturn the state's longtime statutory ban on gay marriage. A ruling in the case is expected soon from the California Supreme Court.
Copyright 2016 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.