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Will it be 2010 or 2012 for same-sex marriage's next round at polls?

SAN FRANCISCO — This is a big week for California same-sex-marriage advocates, as a clearer picture will emerge about whether they're going to put the issue before voters again in November 2010 or wait until 2012. Or beyond.

On Wednesday, Equality California, one of the organizations at the forefront of the anti-Proposition 8 campaign last year, will announce which "way forward" it suggests taking.

On Thursday, the 700,000-member liberal online hub Courage Campaign, whose members advocate a 2010 run, will say whether a $200,000 challenge grant it issued for preliminary campaign work was met. If it wasn't, then as Courage Campaign founder Rick Jacobs wrote to supporters, "We will have to accept that our movement is not ready to repeal Prop. 8 in 2010."

The time pressure to decide: The secretary of state's office suggests that ballot measures be submitted to the attorney general's office by Sept. 25 to qualify for the November 2010 ballot. Organizers need to gather 1 million signatures to sift out 694,354 valid ones.

The decision has split advocates across the state, many of whom are still smarting from the Prop. 8 campaign loss, emotionally and financially. Although Equality California and Courage Campaign say their supporters have urged them to go for it in 2010, a coalition of state organizations representing Latino, African-American and Asian Pacific Islander gays says not enough outreach has been done to their communities — one of the major reasons the anti-Prop. 8 campaign failed.

Several California ACLU chapters have suggested waiting. So has the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club in San Francisco, the oldest Democratic LGBT organization in the country, which said, "If we set the vote for 2010, we essentially need to net 1,000 voters per day, a theoretically achievable but extraordinarily ambitious goal."

Marriage Equality USA found "no consensus" when it posed the question at 40 community gatherings across the state this summer. But what was clear, the organization's report said, "is that many people are still trying to heal from the deep anger and sadness of having their civil rights stripped away" by last year's vote.

In July, several top political consultants told Equality California that they either explicitly or implicitly suggested waiting. Sue Burnside, co-chairwoman of the National Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund Campaign Board, is "convinced that we should refrain from rushing in 2010, and instead build on grass-roots passion and strategically prepare for a 'Yes on Marriage Equality' referendum in 2012."

"If Barack Obama had relied on the polls, then he never would have run for president," Steve Hildebrand, one of Obama's top confidants and a gay-rights advocate, told the San Francisco Chronicle. Hildebrand has informally advised the Courage Campaign on the issue. "And 16 months until an election is a lifetime."

But Equality California marriage director Marc Solomon, who was at the forefront of the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts, said, "We can't base our decision (putting it on the ballot in 2010) on how badly we want to win marriage back.

"This issue is different than running a campaign for a political candidate. There are not a lot of undecided voters," said Solomon, who estimates that about 15 percent of voters are in the movable middle.

Then there's the money issue. Advocates estimate that it would take $50 million to run a campaign against deep-pocketed opponents.

"The money is there," Hildebrand said. "If there is a well-run, disciplined campaign, people will donate. Lots of small donors."

But others, like Solomon, are "skeptical, based on the conversations with many major donors."

David Bohnett, the technology entrepreneur who donated more than $1 million to the anti-Prop. 8 campaign, has been publicly reluctant to commit to 2010. And social service organizations that serve the LGBT community are worried that there won't be enough money for social services, especially after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cut $52 million in AIDS services from the state budget last month.

"Our donors are telling us that they're torn between giving to us and giving to same-sex marriage," said Dana Van Gorder, executive director of Project Inform, an advocacy organization for people living with AIDS/HIV.

And then there's the organizational issue. A number of grass-roots groups formed online after Prop. 8's passage last year, and there hasn't been a clear-cut leader or organizational structure to this growing coalition. Several donors have said they are reluctant to open their wallets again until they see a better-run campaign than last time.

"But there is always a certain level of chaos when you're building a coalition," Hildebrand said. "That said, they have to make a timely decision about whether to go in 2010 in the next couple of weeks."