No more ‘easy tar­gets’ for gay mar­riage Op­po­nents see a more level play­ing field while ac­tivists see con­tin­ued ex­pan­sion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY CH­ERYL WETZSTEIN

As Illi­nois be­comes the 16th state to ap­prove gay mar­riage at a pub­lic sign­ing cer­e­mony set for Wed­nes­day, the po­lit­i­cal trench war­fare over same-sex unions may be fac­ing a wa­ter­shed mo­ment: Illi­nois is the last state where gay-mar­riage ad­vo­cates have an ad­van­tage in both the gov­er­nor’s of­fice and state­house, and de­fend­ers of tra­di­tional mar­riage say the po­lit­i­cal play­ing field will be far more level in the re­main­ing 34 states in the years ahead.

The days of “easy tar­gets” for gay mar­riage are over, said Brian S. Brown, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mar­riage, which supports tra­di­tional wed­lock be­tween a man and a woman.

Gay-mar­riage ac­tivists dis­pute the idea that their vic­to­ries have been easy but agree that their strug­gle is far from over. They ex­pect to be ac­tive next year in sev­eral states, in­clud­ing Indiana and Oregon.

There’s “a shift­ing land­scape” on mar­riage, said Brian Silva, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Mar­riage Equal­ity USA.

“When we pro­vide ed­u­ca­tion, when we talk to peo­ple, when we live our lives out loud, we’re find­ing that in states from Iowa to Illi­nois, from coast to coast, we are win­ning be­cause peo­ple re­spond to fam­ily,” he said, cit­ing grow­ing sup­port in polls for same-sex mar­riage among the Amer­i­can pub­lic as well as among con­ser­va­tives, Repub­li­cans and clergy.

Af­ter a decade of dis­ap­point­ments — at one point, vot­ers in 31 states ap­proved con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments block­ing same-sex mar­riage — ad­vo­cates have been rid­ing a re­mark­able wave of suc­cess.

Mas­sachusetts be­came the first state to is­sue same-sex mar­riage li­censes in May 2004.

This year alone, Demo­crat-led leg­is­la­tures in Rhode Is­land, Delaware, Min­nesota, Hawaii and Illi­nois moved to le­gal­ize same-sex mar­riage. All of the bills were hap­pily signed by Demo­cratic or in­de­pen­dent gover­nors.

The long-con­tested state of New Jersey re­cently joined the gay-mar­riage col­umn when Gov. Chris Christie, a Repub­li­can, ac­qui­esced af­ter fed­eral judges sig­naled their sup­port for mar­riage equal­ity.

Now, how­ever, no state — ex­cept for West Vir­ginia, which has a tra­di­tion of con­ser­vatism on so­cial is­sues — where gay mar­riage is for­bid­den by law or con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment has a gov­ern­ment wholly dom­i­nated by Democrats.

That means those ac­tivists “have run out of easy tar­gets,” Mr. Brown said.

The “false nar­ra­tive of ‘in­evitabil­ity’ ends here,” he said, be­cause most of the re­main­ing states ei­ther have con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments that rec­og­nize only man­woman mar­riages or have sig­nif­i­cant pop­u­lar op­po­si­tion to same-sex mar­riages.

Un­daunted

Gay-rights ac­tivists are un­daunted. When Illi­nois Gov. Pat Quinn signs gay mar­riage into law, 38 per­cent of the na­tion’s pop­u­la­tion will live in states where same-sex mar­riage is le­gal, ac­cord­ing to Free­dom to Marry.

The goal of gay-mar­riage ad­vo­cates is to have more than half of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion in states that have le­gal­ized such unions by the end of 2016.

“What we have to do — like other civil rights move­ments and so­cial jus­tice causes — is win a crit­i­cal mass of states and a crit­i­cal mass of pub­lic sup­port, which to­gether cre­ates the cli­mate for the Supreme Court to bring the coun­try to na­tional res­o­lu­tion,” Evan Wolf­son, founder and pres­i­dent of Free­dom to Marry, re­cently told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

In Oregon, gay-mar­riage sup­port­ers are work­ing to put a mea­sure on the 2014 bal­lot ask­ing vot­ers to re­peal that state’s mar­riage amend­ment and le­gal­ize same-sex mar­riage in­stead.

To win in Oregon, the best cam­paign mod­els prob­a­bly are those that won last year in Mary­land, Maine and Wash­ing­ton state, said Mr. Silva, whose grass-roots or­ga­ni­za­tion sup­ported those cam­paigns.

Sev­eral key mes­sages got across, “that mar­riage does mat­ter: the word, the in­sti­tu­tion, the rights and ben­e­fits,” as well as “the recog­ni­tion of fam­ily, com­mit­ment and the love that two peo­ple have for each other,” said Mr. Silva. “We were ex­traor­di­nar­ily suc­cess­ful in those cam­paigns, and we look to re­peat that in Oregon.”

In Repub­li­can-dom­i­nated Indiana, the sit­u­a­tion is dif­fer­ent, he said. There, gay­mar­riage ac­tivists are play­ing de­fense as law­mak­ers con­sider the sec­ond pas­sage of a con­sti­tu­tional mar­riage amend­ment, which is nec­es­sary be­fore it can be sent to vot­ers.

“What we’re work­ing on for early next year is to stop the leg­is­la­ture from pass­ing it a sec­ond time,” Mr. Silva said.

Tra­di­tional-fam­ily ad­vo­cates are pre­par­ing for ac­tion, too.

De­spite Illi­nois’ ap­proval of gay mar­riage, Indiana has a con­ser­va­tive po­lit­i­cal cul­ture and “we haven’t fol­lowed Illi­nois’ cues since the Civil War,” Curt Smith, pres­i­dent of the Indiana Fam­ily In­sti­tute, said Tues­day.

The Repub­li­can lead­ers of both cham­bers of the Gen­eral As­sem­bly have com­mit­ted to hear­ing the mar­riage amend­ment, and “we think strong ma­jori­ties will again de­cide that the peo­ple should de­cide,” Mr. Smith said.

He noted that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a Repub­li­can, has been clear in his sup­port for tra­di­tional man-woman mar­riage and for a pop­u­lar ref­er­en­dum on an amend­ment.

On Tues­day, Indiana House Speaker Brian C. Bosma re­jected a re­quest to kill the pro­posed mar­riage amend­ment, say­ing it will be as­signed to com­mit­tee and will be dealt with like any other bill.

The state-by-state bat­tle over gay mar­riage was set up by the Supreme Court’s 5-4 de­ci­sion in June strik­ing down the fed­eral De­fense of Mar­riage Act. Al­though gay­mar­riage sup­port­ers hailed the rul­ing as a vic­tory, the high court de­clined to take the more am­bi­tious step of in­val­i­dat­ing all laws at the state level ban­ning gay mar­riage. With many states un­likely to ap­prove gay mar­riage by law or pop­u­lar ref­er­en­dum for the fore­see­able fu­ture, the Supreme Court de­ci­sion meant the bat­tle shifted to each of the 50 states and the Dis­trict of Columbia to set their own poli­cies.

In ad­di­tion to Oregon, 27 states have con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments defin­ing mar­riage only as the union of one man and one woman.

Gay cou­ples have mounted le­gal chal­lenges to th­ese mea­sures in states in­clud­ing Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Ken­tucky, Louisiana, Michi­gan, Ne­vada, North Carolina, Ok­la­homa, South Carolina, Ten­nessee, Texas, Utah and Vir­ginia.

Three states that do not have con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sions on gay mar­riage — West Vir­ginia, New Mex­ico and Penn­syl­va­nia — al­ready are em­broiled in “free­dom-tomarry” law­suits.

That leaves Wyoming as the only state that doesn’t per­mit same-sex mar­riage, doesn’t out­law it by a voter-passed con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment and isn’t em­broiled in a law­suit over the is­sue.

But even Wyoming hasn’t com­pletely es­caped the firestorm: Liz Cheney, who is seek­ing the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion for that state’s U.S. Se­nate seat, has ig­nited a fam­ily feud with re­marks about lov­ing her les­bian sis­ter, Mary, but not sup­port­ing gay mar­riage.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Illi­nois Gov. Pat Quinn ac­knowl­edges Wed­nes­day the ap­plause af­ter sign­ing the Re­li­gious Free­dom and Mar­riage Fair­ness Act into law, mak­ing Illi­nois the 16th state in the na­tion to em­brace full mar­riage equal­ity for same sex cou­ples. The law takes ef­fect June 1, 2014.

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