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New England a
regional holdout in march to ban gay marriages

New England a
regional holdout in march to ban gay marriages

Grooms

To conservatives, it seems a can't-lose proposition: Ask voters to ban same-sex marriage, and they consistently endorse the idea, from the South to the West. Kansas on Tuesday became the latest and 18th state to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. With conservatives pushing to define marriage as a union of a man and woman throughout the country, similar proposals are on the ballot in three other states next year, and more than a dozen are considering them. New England has been the major holdout, however; legislators and judges there have strengthened rights for gays and lesbians. Kansas voted by a more than 2-to-1 ratio Tuesday to ban gay marriages and civil unions, and voters also ousted the lone gay city council member in Topeka, Tiffany Muller, who had defeated an emphatically antigay opponent in the primary. But Connecticut seemed headed in the other direction Wednesday, as state senators approved civil unions and sent the proposal to the house. If the bill becomes law, Connecticut would be the only state to do so without a court order demanding that lawmakers act. The New England examples--most decisively, Vermont's civil unions and Massachusetts's legalized same-sex marriages--are seen by opponents of equality as the threat that's helping their cause. Advocates for gay marriage also see those examples as a plus, by proving that fears that gay marriage will somehow destroy the country's social fabric are unfounded. "The more places that we are able to extend the same rights and responsibilities to all Americans, the more places we've got a light to shine on what's happening," said Joe Solmonese, president of Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group. "Massachusetts, the last time I checked...is still there. Marriage is still there," he said. "People are going on with their lives; gay and lesbian couples are raising their families and living their lives like everyone else. None of what has been forecasted or what we've been warned about seems to have happened there." New England states aren't the only ones to offer gay rights activists hope. California, Hawaii, and New Jersey also allow domestic partnerships--though California and Hawaii also have state laws that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Connecticut offers the strongest recent pro-gay legislation, the civil unions measure, which would extend all the rights and privileges of marriage to same-sex couples but without an actual marriage license. While Connecticut residents seem to back civil unions, however, they do not back same-sex marriage, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday. The poll found that 56% of registered voters support civil unions; when it comes to actual marriage, however, 53% oppose allowing same-sex couples to marry. In a breakdown of poll results according to political party affiliation, a majority of Democrats back both civil unions and gay marriage, 66% and 53%, respectively. Republicans are narrowly divided on civil unions, 45% in favor and 48% opposed, but 70% oppose gay marriage. In Maine a new law signed last month protects gays and lesbians from discrimination, though it made clear it doesn't extend the rights of marriage. The state already allows domestic partners--gay or straight--many of the legal rights of marriage, such as rights to inheritance and benefits. New Hampshire set up a commission to study civil unions after legislators last year refused to recognize gay marriage. For ban supporters, the key difference is a vote of the people. "When the people are given a chance to decide, their view is overwhelming," said Peter Sprigg at the conservative Family Research Council. "Every state that had this on the ballot passed it. It shows to me there is a tremendous grassroots consensus that marriage is between a man and a woman." Voters will decide the question in Alabama in June 2006, and in South Dakota and Tennessee at the 2006 election. Bills are also moving forward in Minnesota, South Carolina, and Texas to put the issue on the ballot there. Meanwhile, courts are continuing to hash out the dispute, giving hope to both sides. A California state judge ruled last month that the state law banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and that gay couples can marry. A New York state judge ruled along similar lines in February. Both decisions are under appeal. Yale law professor William Eskridge, a constitutional scholar active in support of gay rights, said that in the end New England won't be the lone holdout, and he expects resistance to the bans across the Northeast and on the West Coast. But much of the rest of the country would likely back a ban, he said, predicting as many as 40 states would adopt them. Ultimately, the dispute will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. And by then, years of legally recognized same-sex unions in Massachusetts, Vermont, and elsewhere will test the warnings of critics that same-sex marriage is a threat to the institution of marriage, he said. "Now we have laboratories to observe whether these predictions would come true," Eskridge said. "Now we can wait to see who's right." (Robert Tanner, AP)

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