Debate rages over same-sex marriage in several states as polls show growing support

DAVID KLEPPER | Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island — A flurry of activity in efforts to legally recognize gay relationships or ban same-sex marriage is reminding advocates that even though polls indicate growing acceptance, the debate is far from settled in U.S. states.

Rhode Island is pondering a proposal to allow civil unions, a compromise that arose after it became clear there weren’t enough votes in the state legislature to approve same-sex marriage. Minnesota lawmakers voted to put a constitutional marriage ban on the ballot, and the mayor of New York spoke out strongly in favor of same-sex marriage as talks continue in his state.

In Rhode Island, gay marriage advocates say they’re unsatisfied with the proposal to offer civil unions, which provide many of the same legal benefits of marriage without calling it that.

“There’s a special status when you say ‘my wife,’ and civil unions don’t give that,” said Annie Cronin-Silva, of West Warwick, who married a woman in neighboring Massachusetts in 2008. “But things are changing. It’s coming. It’s just so hard to wait.”

Gay marriage is allowed in Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and the District of Columbia. Several other states offer civil unions or domestic partnerships instead. Illinois, Delaware and Hawaii enacted civil unions this year. The debate continues to rage in several other states.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Thursday warned lawmakers in his state that they will be remembered as civil rights obstructionists if they block attempts to pass gay marriage. Opponents have committed $1.5 million to defeat the efforts, matching the amount raised by supporters.

Minnesota lawmakers voted a week ago to put a constitutional prohibition against gay marriage on the 2012 ballot. Voters in 29 states have already added similar amendments, and gay marriage supporters hope to make Minnesota the first state to reject such an amendment.

“It’s a changed debate in Minnesota and in the nation,” said Monica Meyer, executive director of OutFront Minnesota. “I’m hoping we can ride that sea change. But we know we have a very big challenge in front of us.”

Even though Massachusetts considers Cronin-Silva and her wife, Melanie Silva, legally married, Rhode Island doesn’t. They’ve had legal agreements drawn up granting rights that are automatic through marriage, such as making medical decisions in an emergency.

Civil unions could spare gay couples an expensive trip to a lawyer, Cronin-Silva said. But she said it’s no substitute for marriage.

Groups on both sides of the debate have long pointed to polls that appear to advance their agenda. But in the past nine months, several major surveys are showing a trend of increasing support for gay marriage.

A Gallup poll released this month found that a majority of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal. In 1996, Gallup found that only 27 percent of Americans supported gay marriage. It’s just the latest of several major surveys showing that a slim majority of Americans now support gay marriage.

“I thought for a while it might be one fluky poll,” said Gregory Lewis, a professor of public management and policy at Georgia State University who tracks public attitudes on gay marriage. “But now it’s just one after another. It does seem like this year’s polls are noticeably different even from last year.”

An ABC-Washington Post survey in March found that 53 percent of Americans support gay marriage. An Associated Press poll in August found that 52 percent of Americans think the federal government should extend legal recognition to married gay couples, up from 46 percent the year before.

Opponents note that public opinion polls in Maine and California showed majority support for gay marriage in those states, too — right before voters rejected gay marriage measures. Even in left-leaning Rhode Island, efforts to pass marriage rights stalled this year after legislators balked.

The polls show at least two factors contributing to changing attitudes.

For one, younger Americans of all political persuasions say they’re more tolerant of homosexuality than older generations.

Meghan McCain, the daughter of former Republican presidential candidate and gay marriage opponent Sen. John McCain, is one example of a prominent Republican who says the party’s opposition to gay marriage is causing it to turn off younger voters.

Madeline Koch, a 24-year-old heterosexual Republican, told Minnesota lawmakers to oppose the gay marriage amendment because it would put inequality in the state Constitution.

Second, while older Americans identifying themselves as Republicans remain firmly opposed to gay marriage, Democrats and independents appear to be changing their minds, Lewis said. The Gallup poll found that 69 percent of self-described Democrats support gay marriage, compared with 56 percent the year before.

“The generational changes don’t explain everything,” Lewis said. “There’s a fair amount of Americans who are just changing their minds.”

Gay marriage opponents concede that surveys show increased support for gay marriage. But they say polls are different from ballot questions.

“A poll is just a poll,” said Chris Plante, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage-Rhode Island. “The reality is, when people go to the voting booth they protect marriage. Legislatures including our own in Rhode Island recognize that people don’t want it.”

Plante points to similar predictions made about the demise of the anti-abortion movement after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing abortion rights. Nearly 40 years later, anti-abortion groups have successfully pushed for more restrictions on abortion throughout the U.S.

“They think the old folks will just die out and they’ll win this with the young people,” he said. “Maybe for a season. But I believe we will see young people say, ‘Wait a second. This was an awful social experiment.’ You have to take the long view.”

From the other side of the debate, New York Mayor Bloomberg also endorsed viewing it in context. A measure to legalize gay marriage in the state is being negotiated among Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders, but Cuomo has said he won’t put it to a vote until enough legislators are on board.

The billionaire mayor has lobbied Republican state senators, for whom he is a major campaign funder, but no senator has committed to switching camps.

“As other states recognize the rights of same-sex couples to marry, we cannot stand by and watch,” Bloomberg said Thursday in a Manhattan speech. “To do so would be to betray our civic values and history — and it would harm our competitive edge in the global economy.”

—  John Wright

Dueling Iowa protests staged over gay marriage

A DIRE WARNING | Gay marriage supporters, left, look on as former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore speaks during an anti gay-marriage rally sponsored by The Family Leader March 15 at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. Moore warned that gay marriage would result in child abuse and more divorces. (Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

Former Alabama  justice ousted over 10 Commandments monument claims gay marriage would increase child abuse, divorce

Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa — About 500 people rallied Tuesday, March 15, at the Iowa Capitol, urging legislators to send a constitutional amendment to voters that would ban same-sex marriage.

The rally featured former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, who said gay marriage will result in child abuse and divorce. He asked opponents to set an example.

“What happens in Iowa, the rest of the nation watches,” Moore said.

About an hour after Moore’s rally, dozens of supporters of gay marriage rights held their own counter-rally.

Moore made national headlines in 2003 when he refused to abide by a federal court order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the state judicial building. He was later removed from office.

Moore praised Iowa residents for voting in November to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices who supported a unanimous 2009 decision that found a state law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples violated the Iowa Constitution.

“I’m proud to say that the people of Iowa stood up to the justices on the Supreme Court and voted them out of office,” Moore said.

Also addressing the crowd was the Rev. Keith Ratliff, pastor at Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church in Des Moines, who charged that the gay community is hijacking the civil rights movement for its own purposes.

“In my humble opinion there is no parallel,” Ratliff said. “What an insult to the civil rights movement.”

Troy Price, the political director of One Iowa, the state’s largest gay rights organization, said Ratliff is wrong.

“There are thousands of gays and lesbians across the state that recognize this is an issue of rights, the right to be with the person you love,” Price said.

Price said supporters of same-sex marriage have been working to tell legislators, especially Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, that there is wide support for the court’s decision.

A resolution calling for a statewide vote on whether to amend the Iowa Constitution to ban gay marriages passed the Republican-controlled House in February with overwhelming support and headed to the Senate, where Democrats are in the majority and leaders have vowed to block debate.

The resolution would have to be approved by the current Legislature and the one to be elected next year to get onto the ballot.
Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, has the authority to decide which issues are debated in the full Senate, and has said he will not allow a vote on the resolution.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

HRC counters Target money in Minn.

MARTIGA LOHN  |  Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A Democratic-backed political fund, a Minnesota gay rights organization and Democratic candidates will split a $150,000 donation as part of a push to elect gay marriage supporters in the state, after Target Corp. donated the same amount to a Republican-friendly group.

Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese told The Associated Press in an interview Friday, Sept. 10 that the donation is partly a response to Target’s donation to a group helping Republican Tom Emmer in the governor’s race. Emmer opposes gay marriage, and the Target contribution set off a national backlash among liberals and the retailer’s gay employees and customers.

The Washington-based gay rights organization may spend more in Minnesota, which Solmonese said he views as one of the next states that could legalize gay marriage. Solmonese was set to deliver the keynote speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Twin Cities dinner in Minneapolis on Saturday.

“We’ve understood long before the Target situation that Minnesota was poised, as is New York, to be the next state to win marriage equality,” Solmonese said.

He added: “The scope of our work here is certainly going to move beyond the $150,000.”

The Human Rights Campaign will give $100,000 to WIN Minnesota, a political fund backing Democrat Mark Dayton; $20,000 to the gay rights group OutFront Minnesota to mobilize voters; and $30,000 to state candidates, including Dayton. The group announced its plans to give the money last month after Target declined to match its initial donation with another donation to help candidates who support gay rights.

Solmonese said the Minnesota donation excludes funds given separately to Democratic congressional candidates from the state, including Rep. Tim Walz and Tarryl Clark, who is challenging GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann.

—  John Wright