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Gay Marriage Ban Inspires New Wave of Activists

SAN FRANCISCO — They’re calling it Stonewall 2.0.

Outraged by California voters’ ban on same-sex marriage, a new wave of advocates, shaken out of a generational apathy, have pushed to the forefront of the gay rights movement, using freshly minted grass-roots groups and embracing not only new technologies but also old-school methods like sit-ins and sickouts.

Matt Palazzolo, 23, a self-described “video artist-actor turned gay activist,” founded one group, Equal Roots Coalition, with a group of friends about 10 days ago. “I’d been focused on other things in my life,” Mr. Palazzolo said. “Then Nov. 4 happened, and it woke me up.”

Often young and politically inexperienced, the new campaigners include an unlikely set of leaders, among them a San Francisco chess teacher, a search-engine marketer from Seattle and a former contestant on “American Gladiators,” who jokingly suggested that he had become involved in the movement as a way of making up for his poor performance on the show.

“We’re a gay couple in West Hollywood, neither of us involved in activism, but we just wanted to help,” said Sean Hetherington, 30, a stand-up comic who was the first openly gay contestant ever to do battle, however briefly, in the Gladiator Arena. “And we were amazed at what happened.”

Mr. Hetherington and his companion were among several people surprised by the strength of positive reaction after starting Web sites geared toward a demonstration planned for Wednesday, “Day Without a Gay.” Its organizers are asking gay rights supporters to avoid going to work by “calling in gay” and volunteering in the movement instead.

Many grass-roots leaders say the emergence of new faces, and acceptance of tactics that are more confrontational, amount to an implicit rejection of the measured approach of established gay rights groups, a course that, some gay men and lesbians maintain, allowed passage of the ban, Proposition 8.

“I think we are demanding as a community that we democratize our processes and ensure we all have a voice,” said Molly McKay, media director of the volunteer group Marriage Equality USA. “Because we are not a campaign. We are a movement.”

The executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Kate Kendell, a member of the No on 8 campaign’s executive committee, said the criticism was understood.

“Even from my vantage point, I would have a wish list of things I would have done differently,” Ms. Kendell said, adding that she would have preferred “to give our community a greater level of engagement.”

Now, however, the ballot initiative’s passage has forced many in the gay community “out of our stupor” and opened the door for new leaders, she said. “It’s totally legitimate to say that the normal way of doing things did not get us to the finish line,” Ms. Kendell said. “And now some of those groups need to move over a couple of lanes to make room.”

On Tuesday, another group behind the failed campaign, Equality California, announced that it would add several new board members to reflect a surge in interest. The group has also added two “faith leaders,” reflecting the opinion of many critics that the campaign should have courted the religious vote.

The new activists have impressed some gay rights veterans.

“They’ve shown a clear ability to turn out large numbers of people,” said Cleve Jones, a longtime gay rights advocate and labor organizer. “It’s also clear that they are skeptical of the established L.G.B.T. organizations. And I would say they have reason to be.”

The ban, which passed with 52 percent of the vote, overturned a decision by the California Supreme Court in May legalizing same-sex marriage. The same court is currently considering a challenge to Proposition 8.

But many activists seem unwilling to wait for a legal solution and have planned a series of events to keep the issue in the public eye, including a nationwide candlelight vigil later this month, a Million Gay March in Washington next spring and continued protests at county clerks’ offices throughout California.

“We’re doing an end run around the mainstream organizations that run our causes,” said David Craig, a movie producer who is an organizer of Wednesday’s “call in gay” protest. “And the Internet has given us the tool to create these events.”

Indeed, in much the same way a previous generation used phone trees and megaphones, Amy Balliet used Facebook and Twitter to spread the word about protests on Nov. 15 that drew tens of thousands of people in scores of cities and towns across the nation.

Ms. Balliet said the skills she used had been learned in her work at a search-engine marketing firm in Seattle. “I’m good at driving traffic to Web sites; that’s what I do,” said Ms. Balliet, 26, who with a friend, Willow Witte, founded a group called Join the Impact last month.

She added that their impatience with the status quo had played a part. “We said: ‘Why are we going to wait for the organizations to have a protest? They’re going to have to go through all their bureaucracies to get approval. Why don’t we just do it?’ ”

The sudden burst of energy has drawn some comparisons to demonstrations during the early days of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. But Larry Kramer, the playwright and founder of ACT UP, which used confrontational tactics to fight for money for AIDS treatment and research, said advances in treating the disease had, somewhat incongruously, robbed the gay rights movement of broader political momentum.

“For activism to work, you have to be scared and you have to be angry,” Mr. Kramer said. “Nobody’s frightened anymore. The drugs have taken care of that.”

Still, many current activists seem to be enrolled in crash courses in protest politics, with almost daily organizational meetings in cities across California. Some also study the arc of the gay rights movement, which custom dates from the riots at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, in 1969.

“I see a lot more people reading history books now,” Mr. Palazzolo said.

Quite a few activists said they had also been inspired by the acclaimed film “Milk,” which chronicles the fight by a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Harvey Milk (played by Sean Penn), to beat back a 1978 ballot measure that would have barred gay teachers from California’s public schools.

Justin Lenzi, a 23-year-old chess coach who attends San Francisco State University, said he saw Mr. Milk, who was murdered inside City Hall here shortly after the 1978 election, as a model for activism. So do others in his social set.

“I’m seeing a lot of people at my university, either gay or straight, who want to be part of my cause,” he said.

The new campaigners are also showing a willingness to learn. Robin Tyler, 66, a lesbian activist in Los Angeles, said she had been invited to speak at a meeting of grass-roots groups on Saturday and was inspired by the younger generation’s efforts to take the movement “into the streets.”

“The grandchildren in the movement are like us,” Ms. Tyler said. “I told them, ‘We just had to skip the generation above you.’ ”

Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, a gay rights group in New York, said he applauded the sudden involvement of “people who were either complacent or not reached” during the campaign against Proposition 8. But he cautioned that the advances and methods of older groups should not be discounted.

“Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater,” Mr. Wolfson said. “It’s not so much a failure of leadership; it’s an opportunity to bring more people in.”

Mr. Palazzolo, the activist-actor-video artist, said it had taken Proposition 8 to reawaken political consciousness that he and many peers abandoned during college.

“We’ve been spoiled,” he said. “Because while we knew we’d been discriminated against in the past, we’d never felt it until now.”

–Jesse McKinley

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Written by kickingalion

December 10, 2008 at 4:25 pm

Iowa Supreme Court to Hear Oral Arguments in Gay Marriage Case

The Iowa Supreme Court is ready to hear oral arguments Tuesday in a gay marriage case that USA Today reports, “could echo throughout the nation and be far more difficult to challenge at the ballot box than a high-profile ruling in California, legal experts say.”

If Varnum v. Brien is decided in favor of the six same-sex couples who filed the case, Iowa will become the first Midwestern state to legalize gay marriage according to Iowa law professor Angela Onwuachi-Willig.

Iowa legislators passed a Defense of Marriage Act in 1998 but the state currently has no constitutional prohibition against gay marriage. Passing an antigay constitutional marriage measure retroactively would be an involved process requiring a simple-majority vote of both the Iowa House and Senate in two consecutive legislative sessions followed by a majority approval of voters in the next general election.

“This is the heartland of America — a place where family values are revered,” says University of Iowa law professor Angela Onwuachi-Willig, who signed a court brief supporting gay-marriage rights. “It would be an incredibly strong signal for the Iowa Supreme Court to find that same-sex marriages are legal.” (The Advocate)

Written by kickingalion

December 8, 2008 at 4:29 pm

Iowa’s gay-marriage ban goes before high court

The state Supreme Court will hear arguments next month about whether the Defense of Marriage Act – briefly struck down last year – is unconstitutional.
By P.J. Huffstutter
Reporting from Fort Wayne, Ind. — The national fight over same-sex marriage is coming to a peak in Iowa, where the state’s highest court will hear arguments early next month over whether the state’s ban on gay unions is unconstitutional.

The debate over the future of Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act, a decade-old law that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, comes after a controversial ruling by a lower court judge last year.

Iowa District Court for Polk County Judge Robert Hanson ruled in August 2007 that the act violated the state constitutional rights of equal protection and due process. The ruling stood for less than 24 hours, before a Polk County attorney filed an appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.

But in the nearly nine business hours that same-sex marriage was legal in the Hawkeye State, dozens of couples applied for licenses. Only one couple — a pair of Iowa State University undergraduates — was able to move fast enough to obtain a license and rush through a ceremony before the stay was enacted.

Now, both national advocates and opponents of same-sex marriage say they will closely monitor the Dec. 9 hearing in Des Moines. Both sides say they wonder whether the recent passage of Proposition 8 in California, which banned gay marriage, will influence the outcome in Iowa, and whether the issue of same-sex unions will return to the forefront as state legislatures return to session early next year.

More than half of the country’s states have a law that defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, according to research by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

And after the Connecticut Supreme Court invalidated that state’s ban on same-sex marriages last month, there are now two states — including Massachusetts — where marriage licenses can be legally issued to gay couples.

California used to be in that category: In May, the state Supreme Court overturned the state’s gay marriage ban. But after California voters passed Proposition 8 this month, same-sex marriage was banned once again and the fate of thousands of same-sex unions was thrown into doubt.

Last week, California’s highest court agreed to review legal challenges to the proposition.

Given that two state Supreme Courts are likely to weigh in on the subject next year, and that many state legislatures were in recess during California’s fight over the matter, “I think it’s highly likely that lawmakers across the country will be looking to get something on the ballot in 2009,” said Christine Nelson, a policy analyst who focuses on same-sex marriage and family law for NCSL.

In Iowa, officials with the Polk County attorney’s office declined to comment on the impending Supreme Court debate.

Attorney Camilla Taylor, lead counsel for the prosecution, said the Iowa case is not about issues of faith.

“All we’re talking about is government-issued marriage licenses,” said Taylor, who works for Lambda Legal. The national gay rights organization filed the lawsuit in 2005 on behalf of six same-sex Iowa couples; it was later amended to include three children whose parents are plaintiffs.

“There comes a point when you can’t tell people to hold off on getting married any longer,” Taylor said. “We felt the time was right, and that Iowans would give us a fair hearing.”

“Iowa marriage law is settled, simple and overwhelmingly supported by the people of Iowa,” countered Bryan English, a spokesman for the Iowa Family Policy Center, which opposes same-sex marriage. “We’re just hopeful the Supreme Court will uphold the law.”

Until a final ruling is issued, Sean Fritz and Tim McQuillan won’t know how long their marriage will remain legally recognized in the state of Iowa.

On the morning of Aug. 31, 2007, the two college students filled out the paperwork for a marriage license in Polk County, paid $5 to waive the normal three-day waiting period, and found a judge to sign the waiver form.

A pastor at the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines agreed to hold a quickly organized wedding on his front lawn, where it was witnessed by family and more than a dozen reporters.

Less than an hour after the couple received their marriage license, Hanson placed a hold on his ruling, pending the appeal.

That sort of rushed nuptial didn’t appeal to either Jen BarbouRoske, 38, or her partner of more than 18 years, Dawn BarbouRoske. The couple — plaintiffs in the case going before the Iowa Supreme Court — has long wanted to get married in their hometown of Iowa City, for themselves and their two daughters.

” ‘Marriage’ describes the relationship Dawn and I have,” said Jen, a nursing supervisor. Besides, she added, “it seems like a silly thing to have to explain to your kids, ‘Oh, these are the rights we don’t have.’ ”

Huffstutter is a Times staff writer.

Written by kickingalion

November 27, 2008 at 4:29 am

Is California’s gay marriage ban a legal precedent for more discrimination against minorities?

California’s gay marriage ban could open the door to legal discrimination against unpopular groups if the state Supreme Court allows the voter-approved measure to stand, blacks, Latinos, Asians and other minorities said.”

Imagine that! Allowing majority vote to decide who gets to keep their rights turns out to be a bad idea!

African Americans have been receiving a lot of blame for the passage of Proposition 8, the ballot item in California that outlawed gay marriage. Though some say it’s an unfair criticism, many Progressives couldn’t help tasting a little irony when they saw a particularly-high number of black voters turn out to elect our first black president yet, at the exact same time, deny the rights of another minority group.

Sure, I’ll concede that there’s no real danger of an anti-African-American ballot measure showing next election cycle, and given that America just voted for a black president in huge numbers, it’s doubtful it would pass even if there were one.

But what other minority groups could, potentially see voter-ratified discrimination? African Americans just saw a landmark election, and are feeling renewed confidence, but how would Asian people fare? Muslims? Other minority religions? Atheists?

Once it’s decided that the majority can take away the rights of any minority group, nobody is safe. Everyone is a minority in some way. Religion. Disability. Health. You name it. EVERYBODY is a minority is some way some day.

Our Bill of Rights guarantees everyone’s rights regardless of who likes or dislikes it. Putting it up for majority vote on a whim every time someone wants outlaw that which irritates them is not only wrong, it’s unconstitutional. And for good reason.

Courtesy of the Examiner

Written by kickingalion

November 25, 2008 at 5:51 am

Calif. Supreme Court to take up gay marriage ban

Written by kickingalion

November 20, 2008 at 2:16 am