Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, who's the Republican candidate for California Attorney General, would defend Proposition 8 in court if given the opportunity, says his campaign spokesman Kevin Spillane.

“The role of the attorney general is to defend the will of the people,” says Spillane. “He would defend (Prop. 8) and appeal” U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling that found the anti-gay marriage ballot measure to be unconstitutional.

Spillane says Cooley considers his position on Proposition 8 to be a matter of “general policy” if he became the next attorney general, not an issue of whether or not he opposes same-sex marriage.

Two weeks ago, Walker found Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that banned gay marriage in California, to be unconstitutional. The ruling has been appealed by proponents of Prop. 8, with the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals taking the case.

Legal experts are not certain what role, if any, the next attorney general or governor in California will play in the appeal, but there is a possibility those offices could get involved.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger have both refused to defend Prop. 8 in court. Cooley did not endorse or oppose the ballot measure in 2008, Spillane says.

If Cooley became attorney general, Spillane says, he may find “rare exceptions” to not defend the will of people. Asked why Prop. 8 isn't one of them, Spillane says that, in 2009, the California Supreme Court found the ballot measure to be constitutional.

Even though Walker ruled that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional on the federal level, Spillane says Cooley remains firm that he must defend the “will of the people” in California.

Cooley has a reputation as a moderate Republican, but his stance is very similar to some of the most conservative voices in Republican circles, including Andy Pugno, a major opponent of gay marriage.

For Pugno, a conservative Republican candidate for the California state assembly and general counsel for ProtectMarriage.com, defending the will of the people has become the battle cry to overturn Walker's decision.

“California voters spoke clearly on Prop. 8, and we're glad to see their votes will remain valid while the legal challenges work their way up through the courts,” Pugno said recently in a press statement. “Invalidating the people's vote based on just one judge's opinion would not have been appropriate, and would have shaken the people's confidence in our elections and the right to vote itself.”

Spillane insists Cooley's position is not politically motivated. Instead, the candidate is “only looking at what the responsibilities of the (attorney general's) office are.”

With that logic, one has to wonder where defending citizens against discrimination ranks on Cooley's list of responsibilities — a civil rights enforcement unit operates out of the California Attorney General's Office.

In fact, California Attorney General Jerry Brown wrote in a March, 2009, Huffington Post column that Proposition 8 “unconstitutionally discriminates against same-sex couples and deprives them of the fundamental right to marry.” He, as a result, chose not to defend Prop. 8 in court.

Yet Spillane charges that Democratic attorney general candidate Kamala Harris “is trying to turn (Prop. 8) into a political football.”

In a recent press statement, Harris, the current San Francisco district attorney, said that she stands in “sharp contrast” to Cooley, “who has repeatedly stated that he would vigorously defend Prop. 8.”

Harris continued, “If elected attorney general, Mr. Cooley intends to use the full weight and resources of the California Attorney General's Office to stand as a roadblock to civil rights. California's next attorney general will play a pivotal role as this case continues through the court system.

“I reaffirm my opposition to discrimination against the LGBT community, and we will stand together in this fight. Whether through the courts or the ballot box, my commitment to justice will not waver.”

In the California gubernatorial race, Jerry Brown, who opposes Proposition 8, is running as the Democratic candidate. Meg Whitman, his Republican rival, supported Proposition 8 in 2008, telling the Los Angeles Times it was “a matter of personal conscience and my faith.”

Whitman's campaign did not return messages asking if she would appeal Walker's ruling as the governor of California if given the opportunity.

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

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