on Gay Rights Vow State-by-State Fight
York Times, July 6, 2003
229 W. 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036
By Sarah Kershaw
SEATTLE—Spurred on by the Supreme
Court’s landmark ruling decriminalizing gay sexual conduct, both sides in
the debate over gay rights are vowing an intense state-by-state fight over
deeply polarizing questions, foremost among them whether gays should be
allowed to marry.
Even with most legislatures out of session until early
next year, lively debates are already taking shape across the country, from
Hawaii to Connecticut, Oregon to Alabama to Massachusetts. Potentially fierce
battles over marriage and other rights loom in dozens of statehouses and state
courts, as social conservatives—including the Senate majority leader, Bill
Frist of Tennessee—try to breathe new life into a proposed constitutional
amendment that would effectively ban gay marriage.
In dozens of interviews this week, activists, pundits on
both sides and legal scholars from across the political spectrum said that
with the Supreme Court’s June 26 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, the country
was now at a revolutionary moment akin to the aftermath of the court decisions
in Brown v. the Board of Education, which banned school segregation,
and Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion.
“The right wing is really galvanized by this, throwing
down the barricades,” said William Rubenstein, a law professor at the
University of California at Los Angeles and the faculty chairman of the
Williams project on sexual orientation law.
At the same time, he said, “Gay rights activists are
excited and want to go the next step. On the one hand the Lawrence
decision gives advocates an enormous weapon in their arsenal, and at the same
time it will mobilize opponents of same-sex marriage in ways we haven’t
Most agreed that the question of whether the United
States will allow gays to marry would become the next major focus of both the
gay rights movement and of social conservatives, now that the Supreme Court
has decriminalized gay sexual conduct, effectively removing what has been used
by many states as the basis for discrimination on a wide array of civil rights
A decision last month by Ontario, Canada, to extend
marriage rights to same-sex couples, which is expected to go into effect for
the whole country by the end of the year and make Canada the third country
after the Netherlands and Belgium to allow gays to marry, is also bound to put
the gay marriage question on the political front burner here.
“America has hit a tipping point in which fair-minded
people now support equality and inclusion for gay people and most Americans
are ready to accept marriage,” said Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry, an
advocacy group in New York.
“We are in a Brown v. Board of Education moment
right now,” Mr. Wolfson said. “The Supreme Court has said in the strongest
possible terms that love and intimacy and family have deep constitutional
protection for all Americans and that gay people have an equal right to
participate. This gives us a tremendous tool for moving forward to end the
“At the same time,” he added, “it is important to
remember what came after Brown: major legal challenges and acts of courage but
also fierce resistance.”
Glenn Stanton, senior analyst for marriage and sexuality
at Focus on the Family, a national organization opposed to gay rights, agreed
there would be resistance.
“I think that what will happen is that states will be
seeking to say, ‘You know what? Don’t bring any of that stuff here,’”
he said. “We know what we want, we know what marriage is, and we know what
sexual relationships are. They will be asking how they can protect life as
they know it, rather than life as the Supreme Court tells them it’s going to
State gay rights organizations and social conservative
groups are preparing for legislative and court fights.
“These are the first shots in the largest battle in the
culture wars since Roe v. Wade,” said Brian Brown, executive director
of the Family Institute of Connecticut, a conservative group. “The people of
Connecticut are not going to stand for this.”
He added, “Politicians in Connecticut will have nowhere
to hide. You’ll have to choose a side. Either you support traditional
marriage or you radically redefine it, it’s as simple as that.”
During the 2003 legislative session, Connecticut, Montana
and Rhode Island, debated bills that would permit same-sex marriage, all of
which died, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a gay advocacy
No state permits same-sex couples to legally marry, but
in 2000, the Vermont Legislature conferred on gay couples in the state all of
the rights married couples enjoy but do not entitle them to hundreds of
federal rights or rights accorded to married couples in other states.
In seven states, bills that would create civil unions
similar to those in Vermont, were introduced, the Human Rights campaign said,
and they died in all but two—California and in Massachusetts, where they are
pending. Ten states, in addition to the 37 that already have Defense of
Marriage Acts, considered bills that would prohibit same-sex marriages or
would prohibit recognition of civil unions or domestic partnerships. Of those,
only the Texas bill, which goes into effect next month, passed.
Gay rights groups said that even as they are emboldened
by the Supreme Court ruling, they are also preparing for a backlash,
especially in more conservative states.
Alabama is considered by gay rights activists to be one
of the nation’s most reticent to gay rights.
“Some people in our organization are very concerned
about a backlash,” said Ken Baker of Equality Alabama, a gay rights group.
“We’ll deal with it if it happens.”
Another major battlefront is the courts. There are dozens
of pending cases across the country relating to child custody, adoption,
employment discrimination and gay marriage. Two court cases brought by couples
seeking to legalize same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and New Jersey could
yield landmark rulings.
The Massachusetts case, brought by Julie and Hillary
Goodridge, who were denied a marriage license, could be decided this month.
A ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would make
Massachusetts the first state to legalize marriage for gay couples. Some
social conservatives are gearing up for the possibility.
“Our Defense of Marriage Act would have to be
amended,” said Len Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council.
“We’re looking at this closely.”
He added, “Things are going to heat up. The next
legislative session I’m sure is going to be feisty around these cultural
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