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Personhood amendment: Advocate promises it will keep coming back until it passes -- just like marijuana initiatives

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On Friday, backers of the Personhood Amendment, which says the term "person" applies to humans from their biological starting point, announced that they'd collected enough signatures to put the measure on the 2010 ballot.

Of course, a very similar initiative, promoted by 21-year-old Westword profile subject Kristi Burton, was soundly trounced at the ballot box in 2008. But Keith Mason, spokesman for Personhood USA, the organization sponsoring the campaign here and elsewhere, isn't letting that defeat stop him. "I think it sends a message to the rest of the country that we're going to keep fighting until we win," he says.

His example of how this approach can succeed? Marijuana.

"Something I've often brought up are the folks who pushed for the legalization of marijuana," Mason says. "They didn't win the first time, but they kept pressing and pressing and pressing until they got what they wanted. And if they can fight for the legalization of marijuana, we can certainly fight for the civil rights of these babies."

Mason doesn't have this analogy quite right. In 2000, Colorado voters legalized medical marijuana, but the generalized use of the substance by adults remains criminal in most parts of the state -- although Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente plans to avenge a defeat in 2006 with another attempt to pass a more sweeping amendment in 2012.

Nonetheless, Mason's point is well taken. Supporters of the Personhood Amendment are in this for the long run.

The differences between this year's amendment and its 2008 predecessor "are minor," Mason concedes. "There's a slight change in the language. Now it says a person is a human being 'from the beginning of the biological development of that human being' in lieu of 'from the moment of fertilization.'"

He credits this change to Dianne Irving, a faculty member at Georgetown University: "She felt using the term 'biological beginning' was more inclusive and would include all babies -- even test tube babies. And that's our goal -- to protect every human."

This message doesn't stop at Colorado's border. The same day Personhood USA crossed the petition threshold here, it did likewise in Mississippi, and Mason says there are similar efforts taking place in forty states. Moreover, this time around, the group didn't use paid signature solicitors, as it did in 2008. "It was all volunteer," he notes.

Such support convinces Mason that momentum is on the amendment's side -- and so do what he calls "the differences in the political climate" between 2008 and 2010. "We can take a lesson from what's happening across the country -- this sort of angst against the current administration, and a resolve for change even from the past year. I think that climate is very good for us, and I'm confident we'll get a higher percentage of the vote than we did before, if not pass it this year."

And if he's wrong? Mason promises that he and his supporters will be back.

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