President Bush's efforts to ban gay marriage are driving gay rights activists to plan protests and other attention-grabbing events in New York City this summer during the Republican Party convention.
Protesters opposed to the war in Iraq and other Bush administration policies have long focused on the four-day convention, which starts August 30 and is expected to draw 15,000 journalists. Gay rights groups, however, are just now eyeing the convention as an ideal forum to stage protests, raise money, and stimulate the national debate. "This is an issue that has really swept the country from coast to coast and is dominating public discussion about civil rights," said Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a gay rights group. "I don't see that quieting down."
Bush publicly backed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would ban gay marriage after the high court in Massachusetts ruled that it is unconstitutional to prevent gay couples from marrying and as several cities nationwide began issuing thousands of marriage licenses to gay couples. "We're definitely going to use the convention as an opportunity to get our message across and as an opportunity to convey what this election means to gay families," said John Marble, a spokesman for the National Stonewall Democrats, a gay political group.
Gay rights groups say the push for a constitutional ban on gay marriage is not only drawing activists to New York but inspiring young gay Americans to get involved in politics. "We see a lot of previously apathetic gay Americans really taking notice of what's going on and wanting to get involved," Marble said. "People who I thought never in a million years would have gotten into politics are asking, 'What can I do?"'
Chad Cole, a 29-year-old marketing director at a Washington, D.C., law firm, said the proposed federal amendment and ongoing fight for gay rights have piqued his interest. This year he has attended several rallies, written letters to members of Congress, and helped to organize a gay rights group. "For a long time I sat back and let other people make decisions about things that directly affect me," Cole said. "I recently decided that I need to voice my own opinion."
Some gay organizations are also planning to go to Boston during the Democratic national convention, which begins July 26. Sen. John Kerry, likely the Democratic presidential nominee, says he opposes gay marriage but is also against a federal constitutional amendment to ban them. Kerry says he supports civil unions and rejects legislation that could be used to eliminate equal protections for gays.