NGLTF Releases 1997 Legislative Update

March 20, 1997

The year started off with a barrage of gay- related activity at state capitals around the country, and the action continues. Nearly 150 gay-related and HIV/AIDS-related measures have been introduced since state sessions began in January according to the latest survey by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF). For the second year in a row, marriage measures dominate in number, though activists are taking the offensive in many states with anti-discrimination measures. History may also be made in 1997 where for the first time a statewide pro-gay civil rights initiative may be on the ballot.

"The numbers once again illustrate the most important work occurring in the struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality is being done by activists at the state and local level," stated NGLTF executive director Kerry Lobel.


Approximately 46 bills banning same gender marriage have been introduced in 28 states. This includes two bills pre-filed in Kentucky where there is no 1997 legislative session. In two states, Alabama and New Mexico, any person performing a same-gender marriage ceremony would be fined. As same gender marriage is not legal anywhere in the country, all ceremonies performed are private, not civil, ceremonies. Montana's bill has passed the House and soon will be up for a vote in the full Senate.

Four marriage bills passed the full legislature. Those in Mississippi and Arkansas were signed into law, while those in Virginia and North Dakota are awaiting action by the Governor. Virginia's Governor Allen is expected to sign the bill. It is unclear what action Governor Schafer of North Dakota will take, though he has stated he believes the legislation is not currently necessary.

Four states - Maryland, New Hampshire, Washington, and Wyoming - defeated their anti-gay marriage measures. In Washington, the bill made it to the Governor's desk where it was vetoed. The bill has since been amended to provide for a ballot measure on the issue and if passed, could be on the ballot as early as June of this year.

Hawaii and New Mexico both have bills calling for state constitutional amendments. In Maine, an anti-gay group has gathered enough signatures to put the measure on the November ballot. The measure will only reach the ballot if it is not passed in the state legislature.

Five states introduced pro-same gender marriage bills - Maryland, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin. Three remain alive, after Maryland's measure died and Nebraska's was indefinitely postponed.


Approximately 17 bills favoring basic civil rights for lesbians and gay men have been introduced in at least 14 states. These measures remain alive in 10 states - Arizona, California, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, and Washington - and are dead in four states - Arkansas, Colorado, Montana, and Virginia. These measures include adding "sexual orientation" to existing and comprehensive civil rights laws to specifically addressing employment discrimination.

New York's measure, introduced for the 27th year, passed the assembly with a record 90 yes votes. In New Hampshire, the Catholic diocese of Manchester spoke out in support of the bill.

In Washington, activists have begun a new chapter in the quest for equality. Last week the group Hands Off Washington kicked off a campaign to put an anti- discrimination measure on the ballot. The measure is similar to the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Activists are hoping to gather upwards of 200,000 signatures by July 3 to put the measure on the November ballot.


At least five measures have been introduced in four states. They remain alive in Hawaii and California, while Colorado and Virginia's bills were defeated. In Colorado, activists are battling a bill that would prohibit University of Colorado regents from extending domestic partnership benefits to the same-sex partners of faculty and staff.

In Illinois, the Senate is reacting to an ordinance passed yesterday by the Chicago City Council to extend employee benefits to the partners of gay and lesbian city employees. The Senate bill would require municipalities that try to extend government employee health benefits to the domestic partners of gay and lesbian city employees to provide them to the unmarried partners of heterosexual employees as well. The motivation of the bill's sponsor is not to support the provision of domestic partner benefits, but to undermine such benefits to gay and lesbian employees.


Hate crime bills that includes crimes based on sexual orientation were introduced in at least nine states - Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia. The Virginia and Montana bills are dead. Ironically, in Georgia, the scene of three recent bombings, including those against a lesbian bar and a women's health clinic, the bill is being tied up in committee because it is considered "too controversial." Georgia currently has no hate crimes law.

Legislators in Arkansas and South Carolina, neither of which have a hate crimes law, are considering bills that exclude crimes based on sexual orientation. The Virginia legislature passed a resolution calling for a committee to study hate crimes in the state. Sexual orientation is not listed among the bias crimes to be studied. A number of gay men have been killed in Virginia by a serial killer and last June two lesbians were killed while hiking on the Appalachian trail. The murder has not been solved, and many people fear it may have been a hate crime.


In California, a bill is pending to prohibit discrimination on the basis of marital status in state adoptions. In Georgia, a bill strengthening the role of durable power of attorney was introduced. In the absence of marriage rights, the durable power of attorney is an important legal provision for gay and lesbian families.

In Tennessee, activists are fighting a bill that would ban gay and lesbian people from becoming foster parents.


In California, a bill banning discrimination against gay students in public schools and colleges was introduced. The Dignity for All Students bill would prohibit bias based on sexual orientation in school employment, curriculum and the treatment of students on campus.

Meanwhile, at least three bills adversely affecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth were introduced. Two of these measures are what is known as "parental rights" bills. Such legislation is aimed generally at making it harder for schools to teach children about diversity, including about gays. In Washington state, the bill would explicitly ban the teaching of homosexuality as "positive, normal behavior."

Also in California, a bill that would prohibit the removal or phase out of armed forces training units or recruiters from public university campuses is pending. A few of California's public post secondary campuses have removed armed forces training units because those programs engage in discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.


Measures to repeal sodomy laws were introduced in Arizona and Virginia. Arizona's bill is still alive, while Virginia's died in committee.


Numerous bills addressing HIV/AIDS issues have been introduced in at least eight states. The measures range from repealing the compassionate use of medical marijuana to establishing needle exchange programs.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force coordinates a national federation of statewide groups working on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues. "The Federation has allowed for increased communication and the sharing of experiences between groups," said Tracey Conaty, NGLTF Field Organizer. "Because of the strength of working together, we expect greater sucesses in the future."

Contact information for state activists and organizations working on legislative issues is available from NGLTF at 202/332-6483. For additional information on the Washington Employment Non-Discrimination ballot initiative, contact Hands Off Washington at 206/323-3560.

This information was gathered by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force from a variety of sources, including news reports, state activists and organizations, state legislative libraries and other organizations, including the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. Due to the large number of bills introduced, it is virtually impossible for this data to be completely accurate and comprehensive. Individuals with information on legislative activity not in this report should contact the NGLTF Field Department at 202/332-6483, extension 3303.


The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.