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News - October 1996

U.S. Senate passes anti-marriage bill; defeats Employment Non-Discrimination Act

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has compiled statements from some of the nation's leading lesbian and gay and civil rights groups on the U.S. Senate's Sept. 10 vote passing the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and its defeat of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Organizations representing lesbians and gay men nationwide reacted strongly to the lopsided vote on DOMA (85 to 14) and to the narrow defeat of ENDA (50 to 49).

"This vote [on DOMA] is a deplorable act of hostility. It is one of the worst things any Congress has done to gay Americans. This vote will go down in history as a low point in our nation's struggle against bigotry. This bill does nothing to 'defend' marriage. Its only purpose and effect is to bash lesbian and gay Americans, and to pick up a couple of votes along the way. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has been stifled since its introduction in 1994, but the ACLU and other gay rights advocates-emboldened by the narrowing margin-vow to press for the measure again next term," said Matt Coles, Director of the Lesbian & Gay Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. As part of the nation's oldest civil liberties organization, the ACLU's Lesbian & Gay Rights Project fights for equal rights in the courts, the legislatures, and the court of public opinion.

"Anytime forty nine Senators vote in favor of lesbian and gay civil rights, it is certainly a milestone. The near-victory on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act means we must continue the work of educating the public about the real-life issues affecting gay men and lesbians not only in Congress but at home, in places of worship and in the media. Today's vote on the Defense of Marriage Act yielded a decision that we all expected. The politicians threw a political football, only to have the American public lose the game. This meaningless piece of legislation was never about equal marriage rights, but about discrimination. America will look back on this vote with shame," said William Waybourn, Managing Director, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). GLAAD is the nation's lesbian and gay news bureau and the only national lesbian and gay media watchdog organization. GLAAD promotes fair, accurate, and inclusive representation as a means of challenging discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity.

"The Human Rights Campaign is appalled over the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act. This bill is discriminatory, unconstitutional and nothing more than election year gratuitous gay bashing. [It] violates a cornerstone of our nation's most basic principle of fairness, that all people are equal in the eyes of the law. With today's vote [on ENDA], we have witnessed the struggle for gay rights being embraced by the long-standing civil rights struggle in this country. It is no longer a question of 'if' we will pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, it is only a matter of 'when,'" said Elizabeth Birch, Executive Director, Human Rights Campaign. The Human Rights Campaign is the largest national lesbian and gay political organization, with members throughout the country.

"DOMA is a politically motivated, mean-spirited attempt to force lesbians and gays back in the closet of fear. All lesbians and gay people, as well as all citizens concerned about justice, should contact their elected representatives to voice their outrage about this bill," said Keith Boykin, Executive Director, National Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum, which monitors and responds to issues of concern to the black lesbigaytrans community.

"In the worst of election year pandering, Congress has demonstrated a profound lack of commitment to family values. Excluding lesbians and gay men from our right to legal recognition of our relationships harkens back to this country's shameful past, when marriages between committed adults of different races were prohibited. The Senate's action today is based on pure and simple prejudice. What is particularly reprehensible is that the Senate did not even have the courage to provide the most basic civil rights protection to gays and lesbians. What they gave us instead was a one, two gut punch. History will judge them accordingly," said Kate Kendell, Executive Director, The National Center for Lesbian Rights. The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a lesbian, feminist, multicultural, legal resource center committed to creating a world where all lesbians can live fully without fear of discrimination.

"Despite the outcome of these bills, the debates on them have already made history. We have broken the legislative logjam that has blocked Congress from seriously discussing our civil rights. What was inconceivable only a few years ago is happening today. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equal rights have taken center stage in American government, and we can never go back to the days of silence," said Melinda Paras, Executive Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), the nation's oldest national gay and lesbian civil rights organization.

"Today's vote on the Defense of Marriage Act comes as a great frustration and disappointment to parents, family members and friends of lesbian and gay Americans. Our gay loved ones have been demeaned and denied their basic rights in the halls of Congress. Candidates are tripping over themselves to convince voters that they understand family values, while forgetting that these attacks on gay and lesbian people hurt families like ours. The additional defeat of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, though by a slim margin, is a double blow to American families. While PFLAG members applaud the Senators who voted in support of this bill, we wonder how those Senators who oppose ENDA can claim to be pro-family while denying tax-paying citizens equal access to two of the basic tenets of family: marriage and work," said Mitzi Henderson, President of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). PFLAG promotes the health and well-being of gay, lesbian and bisexual persons, their families and friends.

"This election-year diversionary tactic is designed to shift public attention away from the issues that really matter to the electorate. Nonetheless, we can turn a negative into a positive. We can take the sour, divisive attack that DOMA and ENDA represents and turn it into a positive, united defense of civil rights for all Americans. We can take lemons and make lemonade," said Carole Shields, President of People For the American Way Action Fund. People For the American Way Action Fund is a 300,000-member organization that works to counter the political agenda of the Religious Right and to guarantee the civil rights of all Americans, including gays and lesbians.

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