Washington, D.C. -- Aided by an unprecedented national coalition of gay movement groups focused on winning and keeping the freedom to marry, gay, lesbian, bisexual and non-gay activists around the country are fighting a rash of anti-marriage bills. With state legislatures in session for hardly a month, the bills have been introduced by right-wing lawmakers to block recognition of same-sex couples' marriages in 17 states.
Although gay and lesbian couples cannot legally marry in any state, arch-conservative legislators are attempting to rush through anti-marriage bills in Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, New Mexico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington.
The measures would declare that a couple's legal marriage from one state would not be recognized when they crossed the border to another state. In addition, an anti-gay ballot measure in Oregon, if passed this year, would prohibit same-gender couples' civil marriages as well as overturn gay-inclusive nondiscrimination laws.
The bills reflect the growing national attention to gay people's equal marriage rights, especially from the Right. Randall Terry, chief of Operation Rescue, has announced this week he is going to Hawaii with "Gay Agenda" video maker Bill Horn and other right wing representatives to protest gay marriages. Meanwhile, on primary weekend in Iowa, presidential candidates Phil Gramm and Patrick Buchanan have been requested to speak at an anti-marriage rally.
"The goal of these anti-marriage bills is to shut down the public discussion that has begun around the injustice of denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry," said Evan Wolfson, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund Marriage Project director. "The state attacks offer us an excellent opportunity to push our political and educational work alongside the legal efforts that will bring us the freedom to marry."
Numerous media reports, editorials and talk show programs have already addressed the unfairness of denying the freedom to marry to gay people. For example, the Economist magazine endorsed equal marriage rights in a cover story, the Des Moines Register opposed a local anti-marriage bill, and Oprah and Nightline have covered the struggle.
Last year, measures to block recognition of marriages were defeated in Alaska and South Dakota. Unfortunately, Utah passed such a measure, which civil rights groups have vowed to challenge in court. So far this year a measure in Maine was withdrawn by its sponsor after public uproar.
Although each measure is worded slightly different, most of the bills are virtually identical. For example, California's A.B. 1982 states, "A marriage contracted outside this state between individuals of the same gender is not valid in this state." The bill was passed 41-31 by the Assembly last month, with a Senate battle still to come. South Dakota's House Bill 1143 goes a step further, stating, "Marriage is a personal relation, between a man and a woman, arising out of a civil contract to which the consent of parties capable of making it is necessary. Consent alone does not constitute a marriage; it must be followed by a solemnization."
"What we have been trumpeting for the past year is happening: same-gender marriage is in the sights of the radical right and is exploding into the national political consciousness," said Robert Bray, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) media director. "Marriage is a basic human right. And whether I choose to get married or not, that choice should be mine and my partner's to make -- not Pat Robertson, Lou Sheldon, Newt Gingrich or homophobic state lawmakers."
The National Freedom to Marry Coalition, comprised of more than 250 organizations, is helping activists battle the bills, educate communities and brief the media. It has sponsored a Freedom to Marry sign-on resolution, which has gathered hundreds of signatures from individuals and organizations, including religious leaders.