November 8, 2012

Gay marriage seizing momentum

Activists say they'll focus next on winning rights in the federal courts and in state legislatures.

Los Angeles Times

Four years ago, opponents of gay marriage celebrated a winning streak, having persuaded California voters to end marriage rights for gays. If courts or legislatures bowed to the pro-marriage forces, the opposition figured it could just go to the ballot box to restore marriage bans.

Barrack Obama
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Trenton Garris, right, and others show their gratitude in Seattle in May after President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage. Gay-rights activists cited Obama’s change of heart as a key ingredient in Tuesday’s victories in four states: Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington.

The Associated Press

But all that changed Tuesday, when gay-marriage supporters succeeded in the four states where the question was on the ballot.

Until then, voters had consistently opposed marriage rights, most recently in June in North Carolina.

The opposing sides differed on the significance, with Christian conservatives considering the election a blip and gay-rights activists describing it as a monumental sea change. But the results emboldened activists to target other states for marriage rights and left their opponents reeling.

Gay-rights activists singled out President Obama's change of heart in favor of same-sex marriage as a key ingredient in Tuesday's victories. Just four years ago, the sponsors of Proposition 8's ban on same-sex marriage made robo-calls to California homes with a recording of Obama saying he opposed gay nuptials.

"His shift caused a lot of other politicians to feel free to change their positions as well and made it easier for African-American churches to change their positions," said Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, a gay rights organization.

With election victories in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington, gay-rights activists said Wednesday they would focus next on winning marriage rights both in the federal courts and in state legislatures, which could include those of Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii and Illinois.

"When you have momentum on your side, it's the time to double down," said Chad Griffin, a gay activist who launched the legal fight against Proposition 8. "That's exactly what we've got to do, we've got to take this momentum and move forward."

Gay-rights supporters spent about $32.7 million in Tuesday's races, compared with $11.3 million by Christian conservatives.

Four years ago, the spending on Proposition 8 was roughly equal. Activists said the Mormon Church largely stayed out of the races this time, letting the Catholic Church carry the burden.

Supporters of same-sex marriage also enlisted the backing of churches and the black community, which in the past tended to oppose gay marriage.

In Maryland, where blacks make up about 25 percent of the population, a black mega-church helped spur support for marriage rights.

An exit poll showed that 27 percent of voters were African-American, and half supported marriage rights, according to the Human Rights campaign, a gay-rights advocacy group.

Activists also changed their messaging from four years ago. Instead of asking voters for equal rights, they emphasized that gays, like heterosexuals, wanted to formalize their commitment and protect their children.

Volunteers shared personal testimonials about their partners and family during nightly phone banks and door-to-door canvassing.

"We turned this into a conversation about love, family and commitment," said Griffin, head of the Human Rights Campaign.

Proposition 8 is now before the U.S. Supreme Court, which is considering whether to review a federal appeals court decision that overturned the 2008 ballot imitative.

Gay-rights lawyers said Tuesday's election demonstrates to the court that public opinion on same-sex marriage is moving rapidly in favor of gay rights.

"This will send an even clearer message to the justices about which way the winds of history are blowing," Davidson said. "And I think it may raise questions in their mind about whether to even take the case."

Opponents of same-sex marriage blamed their defeats on the Democratic nature of the states in play on Tuesday and the lopsided spending in favor of marriage rights.

"The other side is now going to try to pass more marriage laws, and we will have to work as twice as hard," said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, which spent $5.5 million on Tuesday's ballot measures. "Today is a bad day for us."

(Continued on page 2)

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