The latest twists
in the same-sex marriage debate create an oddly divided
United States, with only its northeast corner and Pacific
Coast recognizing same-sex unions. But gay rights
leaders are encouraged by progress on other parts of
their agenda across the nation's heartland.
states, Oregon, Iowa, and Colorado, have enacted laws this
year outlawing antigay discrimination, raising the total to
20 states that account for more than half the U.S.
population. Several of those states extend those
protections to transgender people.
politicians who became the first openly gay members of their
state legislatures have had an impact, helping pass gay
rights bills or thwarting measures they viewed as
antigay. In Arkansas, for example, state
representative Kathy Webb's heartfelt arguments played a
role in the rejection of a bill to bar gays from
adopting or foster parenting. ''It makes a difference
when it's personal,'' Webb said in a telephone
interview. ''It's harder to ignore the evidence when it's a
friend and colleague who's talking.''
In Dallas, gay
city councilman Ed Oakley emerged from an 11-candidate
field to reach Saturday's runoff election for mayor. Though
he lost, activists were pleased by his 42% support in
what traditionally has been considered a conservative
Other trends have
buoyed gay rights leaders, including:
for congressional passage of two gay rights bills: a
hate-crimes bill that would cover offenses motivated by
antigay bias, and a measure that would outlaw
workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.
demands for repeal of the ''don't ask, don't tell'' policy
that bars openly gay people from serving in the military.
The Bush administration supports the policy; all the
Democratic presidential candidates oppose it.
repudiation of antigay remarks by several national figures,
notably TV actor Isaiah Washington, commentator Ann Coulter,
and the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, Marine general Peter Pace.
marriage, however, remains the highest-profile issue.
Activists have been elated by some recent
developments, including New Hampshire's approval of
civil unions and the 151-45 vote by Massachusetts lawmakers
last week blocking a proposed ballot measure to ban gay
marriage. Massachusetts is the only state where
same-sex marriage is legal, but nine other states have
approved spousal rights in some form for same-sex
couples: Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey,
Maine, California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii.
California, which now has a domestic partnership law,
will probably be the next major battleground. Its
legislature is expected to pass a bill this year allowing
gay couples to marry, although Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger has said he would veto it. A separate
legal challenge to California's one man-one woman marriage
law is headed to the state supreme court. In response,
some conservative groups hope to place a
constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2008 that
would ban same-sex marriage. Such a campaign would trigger
massive spending from both sides.
''The outcome of
that race will have a huge impact on how quickly we'll
be able to move forward in other states,'' said Matt
Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and
Lesbian Task Force. ''If we lose in California,
marriage equality is going to be limited to just a handful
of states for the foreseeable future.''
A similar ban is
expected to be on Florida's ballot next year, although
under state law it would need at least 60% support to
prevail. "There's no question that's a challenge, but
we're definitely up for it,'' said John Stemberger,
president of the conservative Florida Family Policy
Council. With Democrats controlling Congress, conservative
leaders have scaled back their campaign for a federal
constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage,
and acknowledge that recent political momentum has, in
many cases, not been with them. ''The homosexual lobby is
receiving some payback for putting their time and resources
into electing liberals to office,'' said Matt Barber,
cultural issues policy director for Concerned Women
for America. ''That lobby has managed to label anyone
who'd defend marriage as bigots and homophobes.''
both sides are aware of opinion polls showing that that
while a majority of older Americans oppose same-sex
marriage, half or more of young Americans support it.
Barber blames this on gay rights ''propaganda'' in the
public schools and on television, resulting what he
called the '' Will & Grace-ification of
Evan Wolfson, who
heads the advocacy group Freedom to Marry, says public
opinion is shifting inexorably toward recognition of
same-sex couples as Americans observe the experiences
of Massachusetts and states with civil unions. ''When
people push past the politics and look at the reality,
they realize families were helped and no one was hurt,'' he
said. ''The other side may continue to score a few
points, but I think most of them now understand they
are going to lose.''
The president of
the largest national gay rights group, Joe Solmonese of
the Human Rights Campaign, attributed much of the momentum
on his side to the results of the 2006 election, when
liberal gains led directly to the passage of gay
rights legislation in states such as New Hampshire, Iowa,
and Colorado. ''Fear has given way to fairness in terms of
how people view these issues,'' he said. (AP)