US gays gird for explosive battle over marriage
August 7, 2003
SAN FRANCISCO - In 1971, Paul Warwick made history when he sued Washington state
to be able to marry another man.
But 32 years after courts rejected his pioneering lawsuit, Warwick frets that a brewing national battle over same-sex marriage could provoke an anti-gay backlash and set back years of progress
on homosexual rights in the United States.
"The gay community is in danger of falling into the religious right's fight over marriage. We will lose that," said Warwick in San Francisco. "We can't fight the marriage battle right now." A similar ambivalence is filling America's gay community as it girds for a confrontation over marriage rights that could feature
prominently in the 2004 presidential election.
Last week President George W. Bush threw down the gauntlet when he said that marriage could only involve a man and a woman, while the Catholic Church issued a condemnation of gay marriage and
adoption as unnatural and immoral.
Both statements were cheered by conservative political and
religious groups who want to ban official recognition of same-sex
Leading Republican senators Rick Santorum and Bill Frist
advocate a constitutional amendment that would reserve marriage for
But most of the nine politicians competing for the Democratic
nomination for next year's presidential polls have endorsed some
form of official sanction for gay couples while stopping short of
endorsing outright marriage.
The issue of gay marriage rights has been looming since the
terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, after gay partners of some
of those who died were denied the benefits that heterosexual
Several high-profile legal cases have sharpened the debate in
recent weeks. In June the Canadian government announced it would
legalize gay marriage following a key court ruling.
Two weeks later, the US Supreme Court overturned a Texas sodomy
law in a landmark decision that held, essentially, that
homosexuality is a private issue outside the realm of the law.
Then Massachusetts' state supreme court heard a challenge to its
laws denying gay couples marriage rights, as similar cases were
pending in New Jersey, Arizona and Indiana.
Most analysts believe the Massachusetts court will rule this
month in favor of gay unions, prompting calls by conservatives for
a national law banning official gay marriage.
The issue is so heated, explained California gay rights lawyer
Toni Broaddus, because in the United States marriage is both a
civil and religious institution, and separating the two is very
At the level of civil law gay couples are now demanding the same
legal benefits and protections accorded all married couples.
These include tax advantages, inheritance and property rights,
family health benefits, and hospital visitation rights.
In 2000, Vermont became the first state to fashion a civil union
law to guarantee gay couples these rights. Since then 5,914 gay
unions have been registered.
The same year, California enacted a much narrower domestic
partnership law, and more than 21,000 couples have registered under
But although heterosexual marriages are recognized by all
states, these unions are not. US marriage law is set by individual
states and not by the federal government.
"We should be treated equally," said Broaddus, calling for full
recognition under existing marriage laws. "Full equality means
But the use of the term "marriage" angers conservatives. They
believe that marriage should be reserved for only and man and a
And the explosive issue is as a political hot potato for gay
rights activists as mush as it is for Bush, said Fred Jankowiak,
president of the Silicon Valley chapter of the Log Cabin
Republicans, a national conservative gay organization.
Bush is under pressure from the far right to block all legal
recognition of gay couples. But many moderate republicans support
Vermont-style civil union laws, said Jankowiak, a marketing
consultant in San Jose.
"I think President Bush is personally committed to fair and
equal treatment for all Americans. But he is in a tough position --
he needs to get elected again."
Instead of marriage, gays should focus on civil union laws,
Jankowiak said. "We in Log Cabin are not interested in the word
marriage," he said.
Warwick, who at 56 remains single since losing his 1971
challenge, agreed. But whatever happens, he said. "This is going to
be one of the most decisive battles since the civil rights fight of
the 1960s." -Sapa-AFP
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