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More Backlash Than Bliss 1 Year After Marriage Law

Massachusetts gays can celebrate, but their gain has energized foes of same-sex unions.

May 17, 2005|Elizabeth Mehren | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — In the year since Massachusetts became the only state to permit gays and lesbians to wed, more than 6,000 same-sex couples have traded marriage vows.

To commemorate today's anniversary, many of those couples plan to waltz at a gala party at Boston's swank Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel and pose for a group photograph outside the statehouse. Among other festivities around the state, the Boston suburb of Belmont plans an ice cream social.

But those celebrations occur against a sobering national backdrop for supporters of same-sex marriage: A powerful coast-to-coast backlash has meant that rather than emerging as the legal trendsetter on marriage for gays and lesbians, Massachusetts has become a cultural anomaly.

Opponents of same-sex marriage have successfully marshaled forces to prevent other states from following suit. Legalizing same-sex marriage has had the effect, unintended by its backers, of providing a new sense of purpose for groups and individuals who identify themselves as pro-family.

Supporters of traditional marriage are carefully monitoring measures concerning gays and lesbians in legislatures around the country. They study school curricula, watching for signs of acceptance of same-sex family structures. To keep the topic in the public eye, they stage rallies, including one last month at a parking lot in Augusta, Maine, during a bitter spring rainstorm that drew 1,000 supporters.

"Nothing has energized previously uninvolved citizens more than this issue," said Robert Knight, who traveled to Augusta as director of the Culture and Family Institute, an affiliate of Concerned Women for America in Washington.

"It has energized the pro-family movement because it has moved the debate beyond theory to actual images of men marrying men and women marrying women," Knight said. "And the realization has set in that this is about more than marriage. It will affect, eventually, every classroom in the country, as textbooks begin to portray two men as a marriage. And it will affect businesses as they are forced to subsidize homosexual relationships."

Moreover, Knight said, "the political impact alone has been enormous. It probably swung the election for George W. Bush."

The man who Bush defeated in last year's presidential race, Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry, might not disagree. This month, Kerry criticized the Massachusetts Democratic Party for supporting same-sex marriage in its new platform.

"I think it's a mistake," Kerry said. "I think it's the wrong thing."

That sentiment is shared by many in government, including Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican.

"In Congress and in statehouses nationwide, it's rhetorical and legislative open season" on gays and lesbians, said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington. In large part he blames "the anti-gay industry, which has used the marriage issue as a way to ratchet up its really venomous rhetoric."

Foreman said same-sex marriage had provided his opponents "a wonderful organizing opportunity, because they are able to exploit so many people's lack of understanding about gay people, and their visceral feelings about the institution of marriage."

But Foreman said Massachusetts might be its own best advertisement for the harmlessness of same-sex marriage. In the last year, he noted, "nobody in the Legislature who supported gay marriage lost their jobs, and the Boston Red Sox won the World Series. And the crops came up, and the locusts stayed away."

But constitutional amendments restricting marriage to a union between one man and one woman passed overwhelmingly on ballots of all 13 states that took up such measures last year. Four state legislatures have approved similar amendments to their constitutions. California is one of 16 states where amendments banning same-sex marriage are pending.

A federal judge in Nebraska, however, struck down that state's ban on gay marriage last week, saying that a constitutional amendment approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2000 barred gays and lesbians from too many other rights, including adoption and foster parenting.

Courts in California, New York, New Mexico and Oregon nullified same-sex marriages that briefly had been permitted by municipalities. In states where marriage for gays and lesbians is under consideration, such as Maine, opponents of same-sex marriage have stepped up their efforts.

H.B. London Jr., vice president of ministry outreach/pastoral ministries at Focus on the Family, said he traveled from Colorado last month to demonstrate in Augusta because "Maine is right in that line of states with Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. They all have very liberal leadership, and I think that makes marriage vulnerable."

London added: "What happened in Massachusetts was a wake-up call to the rest of the United States that if you aren't vigilant, and if you don't stand firmly on what you believe morally and spiritually, traditional marriage is in jeopardy."

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