Conservatives on the edge

Hurricanes. Criminal indictments. 2,000 dead soldiers. A supreme fight over the top court. Are D.C.’s antigay leaders too busy at the moment to fight creeping equality?

BY Jen Christensen

November 21 2005 1:00 AM ET

In late October
the Kansas supreme court issued a remarkably sensible
pro-gay ruling: It struck down the portion of a state law
that punished underage sex more severely if it
involved homosexual acts.

The case involved
Matthew Limon, who in 2000 was found guilty of
performing consensual oral sex on a 14-year-old boy when
Limon was 18. He was sent off to prison for 17 years.
Had Limon had sex with a girl, state law would have
dictated a maximum sentence of 15 months. (The statute
protects heterosexual lovers when one is 18 or younger and
the age difference between the two is no more than
four years.) The unanimous Kansas court found that
having different punishments for gay and straight sex
acts was plainly unconstitutional. “Moral disapproval
of a group cannot be a legitimate governmental
interest,” wrote Justice Marla J. Luckert for
the court.

The month before,
also in Kansas, the Republican chairwoman of the state
legislature’s committee on children’s issues
tabled a proposal to outlaw adoption by gays and
lesbians.

And the state
senate majority leader, Derek Schmidt, also Republican, was
fine with that. “In the great scheme of issues that
need to be resolved by the legislature, this
isn’t at the top of the list,” Schmidt said.

Yes, this is the
same state where 70% of voters in April backed an
amendment to the state’s constitution enshrining
marriage discrimination against gays. The same state
with two Republican U.S. senators who could compete
for a “most antigay” award.

While the
national news—along with the Bush
administration—has been consumed with a series
of hurricanes, indictments against top Republican
operatives, eroding support for the war in Iraq, soaring gas
prices and oil company profits, and controversial
Supreme Court nominations, equality has been creeping
in around the edges.

Even in Kansas,
one of the reddest of the red states.

Other 2005
victories have also been largely unheralded by the
mainstream media: Connecticut began granting same-sex
civil unions without any court order to do so.
Massachusetts legislators, who in 2004 had backed a
constitutional amendment to overturn marriage equality
there, this year soundly defeated the same measure.
Tennessee ordered that a residential
“reparative therapy” program for gay teens
called Love in Action be closed; notorious for
16-year-old Web logger Zach Stark (enrolled by his
parents against his will), it operated as a mental health
services facility—and allegedly controlled
access to enrollees’
prescriptions—without a license. California,
Washington, and Pennsylvania courts, over five cases,
decreed that the parenting rights and responsibilities
of a nonbiological gay or lesbian parent (including
custody) continue even after their same-sex relationship
disintegrates.

There’s
more: The best female basketball player in history came out
to scant media coverage and zero backlash. About 1,000
more gay-straight alliances were established in high
schools nationwide. Human Rights Campaign noted that
84% of Fortune 500 companies had antidiscrimination
policies covering LGBT workers’ sexual orientation.
And as The Advocate went to press, activists in
Maine were optimistic that a majority of voters in
November would decide to retain a law banning antigay
discrimination; polls at press time showed support for the
law at around 60%.

Sure,
there’s been bad news as well, amply reported in
these pages: antigay violence, legal setbacks, almost
any news out of Texas. But on the national stage the
thundering of the antigay far right has, for the
moment, quieted to a dull roar. If you doubt that, remember
the Right’s grandstanding just 12 months ago,
after George W. Bush won a thin majority to keep his
job: “In your reelection, God has graciously granted
America—though she doesn’t deserve it—a
reprieve from the agenda of paganism….,”
the president of fundamentalist Bob Jones University
famously wrote to the president. “Don’t
equivocate. Put your agenda on the front burner and
let it boil.”

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