SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Gay marriage advocates on Monday launched their effort to overturn California's same-sex marriage ban, hoping to become the first U.S. state to convince voters to approve gay people's right to wed.
In the five U.S. states where gay marriage is permitted -- Iowa, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont -- the right was achieved through court and legislative action.
Every state where the issue has been put before the voters, gay marriage has been rejected, including California's 2008 passage of the ban known as Proposition 8. Voters in Maine two weeks ago overturned a state law allowing same-sex marriages.
"All eyes are on California now," said John Henning, executive director of Love Honor Cherish, a California gay rights group, and one of the leaders of an effort to gather a million signatures in order to place the measure on the November 2010 ballot in California.
Signature-gathering began Monday after the state approved proposed ballot language.
The battle over the gay-marriage measure is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars on both sides of the issue.
Bigger gay rights groups including Equality California have expressed concern that next year's election may be too soon to change enough minds to win the vote.
California's Proposition 8, which limited marriage to a union between a man and a woman, passed with 52 percent support a year ago. The vote surprised gay rights advocates nationwide and handed a major victory to the social conservatives who oppose gay marriage.
California's top court earlier last year had legalized same-sex marriage. The ballot language approved by the state to go before voters next year -- if supporters get a sufficient number of signatures -- states that the measure "reinstates (the) right of same-sex couples to marry."
Reporting by Peter Henderson; Editing by Will Dunham