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COUNTDOWN TO THE GOP CONVENTION

Gay Group Plans TV Ads on Marriage

Issues: Spots will compare outcry over same-sex marriage to bias against interracial couples and divorced people.

August 06, 1996|MELISSA HEALY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Gay and lesbian activists, taking their case for same-sex unions directly into the Republican den, are preparing to air political ads in Southern California comparing the bias against gay marriages to that against divorced people and interracial unions.

Designed to grab attention during the week of the GOP national convention in San Diego, the advertisements ask why Republicans--with so much else on their plate--are arguing over which marriages are better than others.

Although activist groups see little prospect of heading off efforts within Congress and the GOP to turn same-sex marriages into a political issue, they hope to mitigate the damage on both fronts by influencing public opinion and affecting legislative strategy.

The ads are sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, an umbrella group of gay and lesbian activists. They will air heavily in San Diego on CNN and during all three major networks' morning shows while the GOP convention is in progress next week.

One of the campaign-style ads features pictures of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole--once divorced--and his wife, Elizabeth, as well as pictures of onetime Republican candidate Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) and his wife Wendy, who is of Korean ancestry, and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who is black, and his white wife, Virginia.

A second ad depicts an animated conversation between a pair of campaign strategists, the more experienced of whom is arguing that "this new law against gay marriage . . . is going to take us all the way to the White House." In a series of exchanges, the more skeptical of the two is dismissed each time he suggests that other issues--violent crime, education, term limits, jobs and Medicare--might be more important to American voters.

"Tell Bob Dole and Congress to stop trying to score political points by attacking gay Americans. Americans want solutions to bring us together, not drive us apart," a voice concludes.

The ad campaign reflects gay activists' determination to reap some political advantage from an otherwise bruising battle in Congress. In recent months, many lawmakers--Democrats and Republicans alike--have rallied behind the "Defense of Marriage Act," which would establish a federal definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The House passed the bill June 12 and the Senate is expected to act on the measure as soon as it returns to work next month.

The bill would allow states to deny recognition to same-sex marriages conducted in other states. It was prompted by a Hawaii Supreme Court decision that could, following a lengthy appeals process, make gay unions legal in that state. In the absence of specific exemptions, the Constitution obliges every state to honor the legal proceedings, including marital contracts, of other states. Passage of the marriage bill would exempt states from that obligation in the case of gay marriages.

With polls showing as many as three in four Americans opposed to gay marriage, activists acknowledge that it would be virtually impossible to dissuade Congress from approving the legislation and President Clinton from signing it, as he recently promised to do.

But activists think they have found ways to glean some good from an otherwise bitter defeat: The ad campaign is one, and an evolving legislative strategy focused on the Senate is another.

When Congress takes up the marriage bill in September, several lawmakers are expected to propose an amendment that would forbid most employers from discriminating against a worker on the basis of his or her sexual orientation. The prospects for the provision's passage in the Senate are considered fair, although foes have vowed to fight the antidiscrimination rider.

Meanwhile, homosexual groups are taking their case to the airwaves, hoping they can convince some skeptical Republicans that the measure should not be a central plank of the GOP platform, as is now planned.

"There was once a time when a divorced man would not have made an ideal candidate for marriage," the first of two ads intones, as a picture of the Doles is shown. "There was a time when some marriages would not have been accepted by some people in our society," the same voice adds, as Gramm and his wife are pictured. As Thomas and his wife appear, the voice continues: "There was a time when some marriages were so shocking to the majority that they were not legal."

"Some still are not," the narrator adds, as a photograph of two hugging women is shown.

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