Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Why Calif. marriage matters here - Southern Voice Atlanta

Why Calif. marriage matters here - Southern Voice Atlanta

Marriage vote called gay 'Gettysburg'

Sep. 19, 2008

Evan Wolfson, one of the nation’s leading advocates for equal marriage rights for gays, compares the decision by California voters in November over whether same-sex marriage should remain legal in that state to the Battle of Gettysburg.

“I often use the historical lesson of the Civil War,” said Wolfson, the executive director of Freedom to Marry.

“The Civil War didn’t end with the Battle of Gettysburg,” he said. “It took another year and a half of bloody fighting and great uncertainty. But when we look in retrospect, with the eyes of history, we can see that Gettysburg was the turning point of the Civil War. California is Gettysburg.”

Officials with other advocacy organizations that support or oppose same-sex marriage don’t use comparisons as dramatic as the Civil War, but nearly all have said they couldn’t overemphasize the profound implications the California marriage vote is likely to have on advancing or curtailing same-sex marriage, as well as gay rights in general, throughout the nation.

Proposition 8, the center of all the attention, is an initiative on the California election ballot Nov. 4 that asks voters whether or not to amend the state constitution so that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

If approved, the amendment would overturn a decision earlier this year by the California Supreme Court that held that same-sex couples have a legal right to marry under the state’s constitution.

The court ruling opened the way for thousands of same-sex couples who reside in the state to marry over the past several months in California. Since state law allows non-residents to marry, an unknown number of same-sex couples from other states also have tied the marital knot in California.

Nan Hunter, a Georgetown University law professor and nationally recognized gay rights attorney, said a defeat of Proposition 8 would mean voters in the nation’s most populous state are endorsing the right of lesbians and gay men to marry.

“Culturally and politically, the impact is enormous,” she said. “California has a tradition of being the trend setter in the United States. Of any single development on this issue, legalizing it in California is the biggest single development short of a federal ruling that would render [same-sex marriage] legal nationwide.”

Other States to Follow?

Wolfson said a victory for gays on Proposition 8 in California also would have the immediate effect of boosting efforts to pass same-sex marriage bills in state legislatures in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont, and possibly Iowa.

“Assuming we hold California and seize the opportunities that shimmer within reach elsewhere, by this time next year, 25 percent of the American people will live in a state where gay people can marry,” he said.

Other gay rights advocates weren’t as bold as Wolfson in predicting that five or six more states might soon legalize same-sex marriage.

But they joined Wolfson in predicting that a victory for gays in the California marriage fight would have dramatic and beneficial effects on efforts to pass non-discrimination legislation for gays and transgender people at the state and federal level.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said a victory in California would improve chances of passing non-marriage related gay rights legislation in the U.S. Congress as well as in state legislatures.

Solmonese noted that gay rights opponents haven’t been able to make same-sex marriage a “wedge issue” in the 2008 presidential and congressional elections. That development, he said, indicates public support for equal rights for gay people has discouraged efforts to demonize gays in election campaigns.

'Armageddon for the Right'

Officials with two of the nation’s largest conservative groups opposing same-sex marriage — the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family — did not respond to requests by the Blade for comment on the California marriage debate.

Literature published by the two groups on their web sites call same-sex marriage a threat to the family and a trend that would likely weaken the institution of marriage.

“Homosexual marriage is an empty pretense that lacks the fundamental sexual complementariness of male and female,” writes Timothy Dailey, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, in an essay on the group’s web site. “And like all counterfeits, it cheapens and degrades the real thing.”

Citing what he describes as studies of worldwide cultures spanning thousands of years, Dailey writes that “virtually no society has ceased to regulate sexuality within marriage as traditionally defined and survived.”

Gay rights groups have disputed such assertions, pointing to what they say are scientifically sound studies showing that children raised by same-sex parents show no developmental differences from children raised by opposite-sex parents in heterosexual marriages.

Patrick Sammon, president of Log Cabin Republicans, a national gay group and one of the leaders of a coalition of Republicans opposed to Proposition 8, said views such as those promoted by Family Research Council have been discredited in most Republican circles.

“Their claim that same-sex marriage will hurt the family is absurd,” said Sammon, who described the studies cited by Family Research Council as “junk science.”

David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C. based libertarian think tank, said deeply held views opposing same-sex marriage by groups such as the Family Research Council and other conservative religious groups are being played out in the debate over the California marriage initiative.

Boaz agrees that a victory for same-sex marriage in California would result in a dramatic boost in gay rights efforts throughout the country. But he said a loss, while representing a major setback, would not be as devastating for the gay rights movement as would a defeat for the conservative religious groups who oppose same-sex marriage.

“If they can’t win in California, I am sure that in their rallies they are saying we stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord,” Boaz said. “And if they lose at Armageddon, that’s a very big deal for them.”

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