One of the two groups fighting to put a gay marriage ban before California voters in 2006 has bowed out of the fight for now, blaming Hurricane Katrina and the political climate for preventing them from raising funds.

Tuesday was the deadline for the ProtectMarriage group to submit the signatures needed to qualify for the June primary ballot one of two overlapping initiatives that would outlaw same-sex marriage and restrict domestic partnership rights.

Andrew Pugno, the group’s legal adviser, said the signature drive had fallen about 200,000 voters short of the required 591,105 signatures.

Mr Pugno said factors in the group’s decision included the difficulty of raising money in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the dimming prospect that the California Legislature will reconsider a bill legalizing gay marriage next year.

“It boils down to a recognition that a ballot fight isn’t likely until 2008,” Mr Pugno said. “This doesn’t resolve the issue by any means; it merely delays the resolution.”

VoteYesMarriage., the other group seeking to have California join 18 states that have amended their constitutions to ban gay marriage, said they have not abandoned the hope of qualifying an initiative for next November, according to organizer Randy Thomasson.

However, the group has postponed launching its petition drive while raising money to hire professional signature-gatherers, he said.

“Whether for 2006 or 2008, VoteYesMarriage is devoted to giving the people the chance to protect marriage from the clutches of the bureaucracy,” Mr Thomasson said.

Last summer, the California Legislature became the nation’s first elected state body to pass a bill legalizing gay marriage. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the law, but conservative activists warned that without amending the Constitution, it was only a matter of time before either lawmakers or the courts sanctioned same-sex unions.