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Carolina gay groups donating to politicians

More South
Carolina gay groups donating to politicians

Gay and lesbian activists in South Carolina have begun contributing more money to politicians who support them, signaling the potential for increased clout among gay and lesbian groups. Since January, nine prominent gay and lesbian activists have contributed more than $3,000 to Democratic state representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter and Democratic state senator Robert Ford, according to lawmakers' campaign finance records. Cobb-Hunter was one of three house members to vote against a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage and civil unions in South Carolina. Ford was the only senator to vote against the amendment, which will be on the November 2006 general election ballot. The lawmakers were "very, very supportive of us in a very difficult situation," said Linda Ketner, chairwoman of the South Carolina Equality Coalition. In addition to funding from Ketner's group, Cobb-Hunter and Ford received donations from the Alliance for Full Acceptance and the South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement. Cobb-Hunter said she is seeing an evolution among gay and lesbian groups. "This is the first time I've gotten contributions in a significant way from the gay communities, and I've championed their views for 13 years in the general assembly," Cobb-Hunter said. But, she added, "it's not because of the contributions that I stand up for them." Ford also supports the views of organizations that have come to his aid. "An issue like [same-sex marriage] should never have been discussed," Ford said. "It shouldn't have come up in any political body in this country. What someone does with their lives should be their business. We can't regulate morality." Contributing to campaigns is a natural progression for gay and lesbian activists, said Warren Redman-Gress, executive director of the Alliance for Full Acceptance. "Gay and lesbian people are certainly becoming more aware that the people in the statehouse who are supporting us need our support as well," Redman-Gress said. This is how most interest groups created around a set of values or ideals grow, said University of South Carolina political scientist Blease Graham. "At some early stage, it's just an idea bounced around by a group of interested and motivated people," Graham said. Such groups "are then able to focus their general ideas on something more specifically legislatively. This is right in line with an organization becoming more significant politically and more potent." Ketner said it's taken a while for the groups to develop to this stage. "Three-and-a-half years ago, it became painfully aware to me there was no statewide organization and no communication among various gay and lesbian organizations around the state," she said. Ketner helped organize a retreat, and the South Carolina Equality Coalition was born. The coalition was different from other gay and lesbian groups because it was politically active. In 2004 the organization for the first time hired a lobbyist for the general assembly and succeeded in fighting off the same-sex marriage amendment by killing it in the senate. In 2005 they were not as successful. Now Ketner and Redman-Gress say they will fight the amendment in 2006 at the ballot box. "We've already been busy planning and have some things in the works," Ketner said. "Yeah, we're going to try and stop this amendment." (AP)

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