An unprecedented number of antigay measures were introduced during current legislative sessions in 44 states, according to a groundbreaking new study released by the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign. The report provides the most complete picture yet of a growing antigay legislative backlash in light of the increasing national debate over legal rights and protections for gays and lesbians. At least 230 gay-related bills were put forth in 2003-2004, compared with 140 in the 2002-2003 legislative sessions. "We have clearly seen a big jump in the number of bills at the state level," said Seth Kilborn, national field director for HRC. "And we are seeing a mixed bag of results in terms of how all of that legislation is dealt with. We were very disappointed in Georgia, where the legislature sent [a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage] to the voters. But, on the other hand, in Indiana and Arizona, legislators declined to consider an amendment."
Most of the bills getting attention in 2004 dealt with relationship recognition and marriage rights for same-sex couples. At publication of the report, there were 99 marriage-related bills introduced in 37 states. Ninety-one of those sought to restrict or ban marriage and other rights for same-sex couples. The other eight sought to provide some level of marriage equality. Sixteen states introduced resolutions urging Congress to pass the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would write a ban on same-sex marriage into the U.S. Constitution, and two of those--Alabama and Virginia--passed theirs. One jurisdiction, the District of Columbia, has a pending resolution calling on Congress to defeat the proposed amendment.
According to the report, 32 discriminatory measures have failed or died in 13 states during current sessions. However, six state legislatures passed discriminatory marriage measures, including Utah and Georgia, which will have constitutional amendments on their November ballots. Massachusetts and Wisconsin completed the first round in a three-step process to amend their state constitutions to ban same-sex marriage.
The report also provides a comprehensive look at legislation, both pro- and antigay, dealing with a wide range of non-marriage-related issues affecting gays and lesbians, including discrimination protections, hate crimes, adoption, and education. "What the report really shows is the need to have strong GLBT leaders at the state level," Kilborn said. "It really shows that we have our work cut out for us over the next couple of years. We probably won't see a reduction in the number of [gay-related] bills next year. We'll probably see as many if not more."