Gay state legislators' key work in passing civil unions and marriage equality legislation is the topic of an analysis by the Associated Press.
"Of America's 7,382 state legislators, only 85 are openly gay or lesbian," the AP's David Crary writes. "They are, however, playing an outsized and often impassioned role when the agenda turns to recognizing same-sex couples with civil unions or full marriage rights."
He cites the speeches given and lobbying done by out lawmakers such as Deb Mell (pictured) and Greg Harris in Illinois and Blake Oshiro in Hawaii in support of those states' new civil union laws, and points to the role New York's Tom Duane will play as lead sponsor of marriage equality legislation there.
When the Illinois legislature was debating civil unions last year, Mell gave an emotional speech about the possibility of being unable to be involved in health care decisions if her fiancee, Christin Baker, became seriously ill. Baker was present at the session that day, and Mell had previously announced their engagement on the house floor.
"The more visible we are, the better," said Mell, a state representative from Chicago. "When you look someone in the eyes, it's a little harder for them to deny that we should have the same rights."
New York state senator Duane voiced similar sentiments: "For my colleagues, knowing that I am not allowed to marry the person that I love and want to marry, that's very powerful. It's more difficult for them to take for granted the right they have to marry when I don't have it."