ADVOCATES OF Proposition 8 claim it is simply a marriage protection measure that does not discriminate against gays. They argue that it would not diminish domestic partner rights but only reinstate a statutory initiative passed by 61 percent of the voters in 2000.

However, that is hardly the case. Prop. 8 is a constitutional amendment that would reverse a decision earlier this year by the California Supreme Court. Prop. 8, like the 2000 measure, states that "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

That is a clear discrimination against homosexuals. Domestic partnerships and marriage aren't the same. If they were, there would be no issue and no motivation for promoting a constitutional amendment that actually delineates the difference.

Only marriage guarantees the certainty that couples count on in times of greatest need such as in making life-and-death decisions, with no questions asked. Marriage also confers a special social status upon couples that legal partnerships do not.

To its credit, the state's highest court understood that there is a real difference between a domestic partnership and a marriage. That is why it ruled that to deny one group of people the right to marry is discriminatory and thus a violation of the equal protection clause of the California Constitution.

The court did not create a new right for anyone. Instead it logically expanded the scope of a basic right to accommodate the social changes regarding homosexual relations.

Few Californians, including supporters of Prop. 8, would seek to outlaw gay partnerships or keep gays from teaching or charge them with a crime. Yet in the not so distant past, such discrimination was the norm in much of the nation.

Fortunately, there has been considerable progress over the past few decades in eliminating bias against sexual orientation. Removing the ban on marriage was an important step in that direction.

Prop. 8 would negate that progress, perhaps for many years, by adopting a needless exception to the basic constitutionally protected right of equal protection under the law.

Regardless of how one feels about homosexual relationships or one's personal religious views, it would be a grave mistake to pass an initiative that reduces liberty by returning gay couples to second-class status.

We strongly urge voters to carefully consider the harm Prop. 8 would do not just to gays, but to all Californians, and reject the initiative.