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A mad rush to the altar

Garrison and Morain are Times staff writers.

Tom O’Hare hadn’t planned on getting married this month to his partner of 30 years. But then on a recent Saturday he happened upon a street-corner rally in support of Proposition 8, which would amend the state Constitution to allow marriage only between a man and a woman.

It suddenly occurred to O’Hare, who lives in Long Beach, that if he didn’t get married before election day, he might lose his only shot at matrimony. So on Thursday he drove to West Hollywood and got married.

Officials in places like West Hollywood and San Francisco say they are seeing a surge in same-sex weddings as gay and lesbian couples nervous about polls showing a close race on Proposition 8 rush to the altar.

A Field Poll released Friday showed 49% of likely voters opposed to the measure, 44% in favor and 7% undecided. And the race is narrowing. A Field Poll in September showed the measure trailing by 14 percentage points, 52% to 38%. The new poll also found that “significant proportions” of voters on both sides are conflicted about the issue.

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The closer the polls get, the more the phone rings at Cake and Art in West Hollywood.

“This weekend is the ultimate craziness. . . . Every other call right now is, ‘Do you have little grooms for the cake?’ ” said owner Tom Rosa. Despite the faltering economy, Rosa said he has had to hire additional staff to handle the rush.

West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran said he was scheduled to perform 20 weddings in the days before the election. In San Francisco, Nate Ballard, a spokesman for Mayor Gavin Newsom compared City Hall there to “a wedding chapel in Las Vegas . . . full of people tying the knot.”

Ryan Rice, 35, and Brett Chisholm, 27, flew from Houston this week and drove straight to the Beverly Hills courthouse for their marriage license.

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“Watching the proposition, we thought, ‘No time like now,’ ” Chisholm said.

Business groups say the estimated 16,000 same-sex weddings over the last four months have provided a slight economic boon. But it has not been the windfall some business owners expected when they began preparing for a so-called Summer of Love in California.

Still, Sharon Sandow, who heads the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said the weddings may have helped soften the blow of a sputtering economy. “Our businesses would be hurting a heck of a lot more if there weren’t all these people around getting married,” she said.

The fight over Proposition 8 has emerged as the nation’s hottest social issue this election year, with backers and foes of the initiative expected to raise and spend more than $65 million by election day.

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On Friday, Frank Schubert, manager of the Yes-on-8 campaign, said the campaign will probably return one of the recent donations it received.

Dr. Edward Allred gave $25,000 to the campaign 10 days ago. Allred, who owns Los Alamitos Race Course, founded a large chain of California abortion clinics. He also has been a major campaign donor, generally to Republican candidates and causes, though in past years, abortion foes have protested campaigns that accepted Allred’s money.

Schubert responded by e-mail to an inquiry about the donation from The Times, saying he was previously unaware of Allred’s donation and would discuss it with the campaign’s executive board.

“I am sure that many, if not all of them will not wish to be associated with keeping this money,” Schubert said. “But since several members are traveling this afternoon, I do not expect to talk with them until sometime this weekend.”

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Both campaigns planned a frenzy of rallies, ads, mailers and e-mail blasts in the final days.

Proponents planned a series of rallies and church services over the weekend, including a plan to fill Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego on Saturday with tens of thousands praying for the measure’s passage.

On the opposing side, clergy, including Episcopal priests, rabbis and Muslim leaders planned to join political leaders such as L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti and actor as Bradley Whitford to oppose the measure.

Proponents have worked hard to ensure voters understand the measure would not affect domestic partnerships, while opponents have emphasized that same-sex marriage being legal does not mean churches are required to perform gay weddings.

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A yes vote on Proposition 8 would amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriages, which have been legal in California since June 17. A no vote would mean same-sex marriage would remain legal.

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jessica.garrison@latimes.com

dan.morain@latimes.com

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