The New York Senate’s vote last week to legalize same-sex marriage won’t prompt similar laws in other states and may touch off a national backlash, according to gay-rights advocates across the U.S.
Georgia state Representative Karla Drenner, a Democrat from the Atlanta area, said she was both overjoyed by the New York vote and afraid that it will galvanize gay-rights foes.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Drenner, who is gay, said in a telephone interview. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this New York victory creates a new rhetoric at the national level, and not a good rhetoric. This is going to be one of those issues that is going to fire up the social conservative base in 2012.”
Same-sex marriage advocates from Georgia to California interviewed by Bloomberg News said that the country’s third-most-populous state’s legalization of gay marriage was a landmark victory. Many also said it wouldn’t change the law where they live -- and opponents agreed.
Since the New York vote, Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann repeated her call to add a gay marriage ban to the U.S. Constitution, according to a transcript of a Fox News interview. A state measure that would do the same is on the ballot next year in Bachmann’s home state of Minnesota.
Hunting the Brave
In New Orleans, the crowd at a Gay Pride event last weekend couldn’t stop talking about New York, said Cory Heitmeier, a riverboat captain and gay activist.
“People were carrying signs saying ‘I love New York,’” Heitmeier said in a telephone interview. “People were changing their Facebook status to say ‘I love New York.’”
The celebrants also had few illusions that Louisiana would follow New York soon, he said: “Not with the Legislature we have. They couldn’t even pass an anti-bullying bill for kids, because it might also protect someone who’s gay.”
“We don’t have the brave leadership they do,” he said. “It would take more bravery here.”
New York lawmakers approved Governor Andrew Cuomo’s bill June 24, making the U.S. state the sixth and most populous to legalize same-sex marriage. Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as does the District of Columbia, according to the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, which advocates equal rights for gay, bisexual and transgender people.
New York’s measure was hailed as a tipping point by some advocates.
“Working together, we can achieve marriage equality in the United States,” Jim Carroll, interim executive director of Equality California, said in a telephone interview from San Francisco. A gay-marriage ban in that state is the subject of a federal court challenge.
Republican support of New York’s law was also significant, said Jonathan Rauch, a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington and author of “Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America.”
“The days of Republican solidarity are waning,” said Rauch.
Still, gay marriage advocates in 29 states, including Louisiana, Georgia and Ohio, face an obstacle that didn’t exist in New York, said Sarah Warbelow, state legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign. The states have constitutional amendments, most passed in 2004, that define marriage as a union of a man and a woman, and prevent legislatures from doing what New York did. That means the victory is limited, said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, a Washington organization that opposes same-sex unions.
“This doesn’t change or alter any of the states that have passed constitutional amendments protecting marriage,” he said in a telephone interview.
In Minnesota, where a constitutional ban is on the November 2012 ballot, same-sex marriage advocates expect to be helped by the New York law, said Ann Kaner-Roth, executive director of Project 515, a group fighting the ban.
The inclusion of Republican and corporate backers in New York is “a great model for Minnesota,” she said in a phone interview. “We have a very strong corporate community.”
Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, which supports the ban, said in a telephone interview that the New York law is a nonfactor.
“I think what happened in New York shows exactly why we need a constitutional amendment,” he said. “But it’s just one more reminder.”
Headed to Court
In many states, the legislative process may be a dead end, said Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters, a Washington-based advocacy group.
“Some of the remaining states are going to be just too hard to get, so we’re going to have to look to the courts,” Socarides, former special assistant and senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, said by telephone.
Yesterday, Lambda Legal, a national gay-rights advocacy group, sued New Jersey over its civil-union law, saying the statute fails to give same-sex couples protections equal to those given married people. Meanwhile, the Rhode Island Senate passed a similar bill.
Georgia’s Drenner said the Republican support that helped pass New York’s law doesn’t carry into in the South.
“Those are very different Republicans than the ones we’ve got down here,” she said.
She predicted that Georgians will see new opposition to other rights issues, like same-sex adoptions: “These things have a way of punishing the community in ways that may seem unrelated but aren’t.”
Gary Palmer, president of the Alabama Policy Institute and a gay marriage foe, said in a phone interview from Mountain Brook that New York’s law will turn conservative attention back to social issues: “You have a lot of conservatives that will be swayed by this. Unwittingly, they’ve made social issues a part of the 2012 campaign, when they weren’t before.”
Scott Porter, a lawyer with Taylor English Duma in Atlanta who has a 5-year-old daughter with his partner of nine years, said he’s not worried about pushback from social conservatives - - and that his attitude is new.
In 2004, when 75 percent of voters in Georgia approved a marriage ban, “it was painful,” he said in a phone interview. “I didn’t want people talking about gay marriage. I thought it would only hurt us. I thought, ‘Boy, that’s pushing things too far.”
“Now I think all that conversation in 2004, all that negative use of us for political purposes, has led to where we are.”