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NGLTF Releases “Capital Gains And Losses: A State By State Review of Gay-Related Legislation in 1996”

Date: 
February 12, 1997

State legislatures emerged as one of the hottest and most important places in the battle for and against gay rights last year. In 1996, gay-related measures in state legislatures surpassed what many believe was a record high in 1995. And 1997 has begun where last year left off. Already, dozens of both pro- and anti-gay bills have been introduced.

Preliminary data suggests 1997 may set yet another record. These are the summary findings of "Capital Gains and Losses: A State by State Review of Gay-Related Legislation in 1996", the second annual survey on state legislative developments conducted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), a leading national civil rights organization that has supported grassroots organizing since 1973.

"Capital Gains and Losses" is a state-by-state survey of gay-related legislation that moved forward during the 1996 state legislative sessions. It also includes information on non-legislative activities that offer a fuller picture of the political landscape facing gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people at the state level. In addition to this report, NGLTF has compiled preliminary data on the flood of activity already occurring in the past six weeks in state legislatures.

"Capital Gains and Losses" underscores that the center of gravity on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues, just as for most other issues, has shifted to state capitals. State legislatures have emerged as a key arena of debate about equal rights and fair treatment for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans. State legislative measures and the debates surrounding them have a direct impact on our local communities.

"This report documents what NGLTF has long recognized: the epicenter of the gay rights movement is in the states," stated NGLTF executive director Kerry Lobel. "Issues affecting the heart and soul of our lives are being debated in nearly every state capital. And it's not only about marriage. It's about anti-gay violence, it's about the daily lives of our youth in the schools, it's about domestic partnership benefits, and it's about issues affecting people with HIV," added Lobel.

"Already in 1997, we're seeing these debates play out even more fiercely. And we're seeing our community increasingly take the offensive in this arena. In 1996 there was only one pro-gay marriage bill introduced. This year there may be upwards of five. The attacks on our youth, epitomized by Utah's ban on student groups will be countered in greater numbers with measures banning discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students," said Lobel.


1996 Summary Findings

The Task Force tracked 160 pieces of legislation:

  • gay-friendly legislation appeared in 25 states and anti-gay legislation appeared in 40 states;
  • when bills relating to marriage are included, the figures show 60 gay- friendly measures and 100 anti-gay measures;
  • when marriage bills are removed, the figures show 56 gay-friendly bills and 50 anti-gay bills.

A quick comparison with 1995 reveals that 1996 witnessed significantly more legislative activity and in a larger number of states. There was:

  • legislative activity on 160 bills in 1996 compared to 105 bills in 1995
  • gay-friendly bills in 25 states in 1996 compared to gay-friendly bills in 16 states in 1995
  • anti-gay bills in 40 states in 1996 compared to anti-gay bills in 29 states in 1995

Same gender marriage overshadowed all other gay-related legislative issues. Of the 25 anti-gay measures signed into law, 18 (in 15 states) concerned marriage. These laws: define marriage as the union of a man and a woman; explicitly prohibit same gender marriage; and prohibit recognition of same gender marriages performed in other states.

Gay-friendly legislation was much more varied. Of the 60 gay-friendly bills: 15 dealt with hate crimes; 11 were basic civil rights measures; 10 concerned marriage and family; 8 involved schools; and 12 were health-related, usually involving HIV/AIDS. There were also 3 sodomy-related pro-gay bills and one pro- transgender bill. Seven gay-friendly measures were signed into law. In Minnesota, a state that already bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, educational institutions were added to its existing non- discrimination law.

Some hot spots from 1996 legislative sessions:

Marriage: Same gender marriage bills were a major focus in state legislatures during 1996, with Governors from 15 states signing into law legislation that makes same gender marriage illegal. Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota and Tennessee all banned same gender marriage. The language in some of the bills was especially mean spirited. For example, Georgia's bill declared that "no marriage between persons of the same sex shall be recognized as entitled to the benefits of marriage."

Health: Legislation limiting the rights of people with HIV took a front seat in many state legislatures. Bills were introduced dealing with everything from the criminalization of sex by HIV Positive people to mandatory reporting of HIV test results. In Florida, a proposal requiring the mandatory reporting to the state of HIV test results was signed into law. And in Kansas a bill was introduced that would have made it illegal for a judge to consider a person's HIV status when recommending sentencing. The bill would have singled out HIV status as the only terminal condition not allowed to be considered in this manner. Fortunately, heavy lobbying efforts by activists were successful and the bill died in committee.

Schools: The most disturbing school measure in 1996, both for its content as well as the debate preceding and surrounding its adoption, arose in Utah. Young gays and lesbians came under attack from the state legislature, and state and local school boards when they attempted to form a gay and lesbian club at East High School in Salt Lake City. The idea was met with overwhelming resistance from school officials after a public campaign by religious and political extremists opposing the creation of a gay and lesbian club. The legislature, meeting in special session, adopted a measure to require school boards to ban certain school clubs from school grounds, including gay and lesbian clubs.

Indiana became the first state in which a full chamber of a state legislature approved parental rights legislation. The House voted 70 - 30 to pass legislation that would give parents broad control of information taught to students dealing with religion, sex education, access to birth control and HIV and AIDS education. The hard work of local activists led to the bill being stripped in a Senate Committee to include only a tightening of child abuse reporting laws, and sending the parental rights provisions to a summer committee for further study. The revised bill was signed into law .

Families: Many state legislatures targeted gay, lesbian and bisexual parents and families for attack. In Alaska, the Governor signed into law an Anti- Domestic Partnership bill that allows the University of Alaska to discriminate based on marital status when issuing benefits to its employees. In Connecticut, a bill was signed into law that allows child placing agencies to consider sexual orientation when reviewing prospective adoptive and foster parents and states that such agencies are not required to place children in homes of homosexuals or bisexuals. One of the most negative pieces of legislation adopted into law in 1996 was in Oklahoma, which prohibited placement of a child for foster care or adoption with an individual who is a homosexual or bisexual.

Hate Crimes: After much work by local activists in Arizona to get hate crimes legislation introduced and passed by the legislature, in the end all that hard work will have to be repeated because the Governor vetoed the bill. The proposal would have increased the punishment for crimes in which the victim was selected because of his or her sexual orientation. In another effort at turning back proposals to protect individuals from bias crimes, California Governor Pete Wilson vetoed a bill designed to protect individuals from criminal intimidation on the basis of citizenship or legal residency.

There was one positive development on the hate crime front. Massachusetts expanded its previously existing hate crimes law to include bias crimes based on sexual orientation and disability. In so doing, Massachusetts joined 19 other states that already include sexual orientation in their hate crimes law.

Civil Rights: In Nebraska a bill preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace was introduced for the fifth time and once again failed to get enough votes to advance to committee.

1997 PREVIEW

Preliminary data based on the first six weeks of the new year suggests 1997 will also be a busy one for state legislation, possibly surpassing 1996 activity. In the wake of the Hawaii court decision, marriage remains a hot topic, especially in those states that did not pass same gender marriage legislation last year.

  • Already at least 49 anti-gay bills have been introduced, with 22 bills (in 18 states) banning same-gender marriage.
  • 25 pro-gay bills, including 3 bills legalizing same-gender marriage, have also been proposed to date.
  • Additional 1997 pro-gay bills so far include: 4 bills which would provide for domestic partnership benefits,; 6 hate crime bills that include sexual orientation; and 9 civil rights proposals.
  • Besides anti-gay marriage bills, states seem to be focusing their anti-gay attacks in the health area (14 bills, with 9 requiring mandatory HIV testing) and on school-related issues (8 such bills).

As in both 1995 and 1996, measures to counter anti-gay violence will constitute a significant portion of the proactive agenda of many of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender groups in states where there are no anti-gay hate crime laws. In addition, the relative success of the Employment Non- Discrimination Act (ENDA) in the U.S. Senate in 1996 combined with the claims last year of many anti-gay marriage bill supporters that they oppose anti-gay employment discrimination, is expected to lead to an increase in state bills banning such employment discrimination.

Hot spots and hot issues in 1997 include a bill in Arkansas making schools a hostile free environment for all youth, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. This bill comes in the aftermath of the severe beating in December of Fayetteville High School student William Wagner because he is gay. A similar measure has also been introduced in the California General Assembly. In Arizona, extremely threatening legislation banning gay and lesbian student groups is pending. This bill is modeled on a Utah measure that passed last year. Pro-gay marriage bills, a rarity last year, are already pending in Nebraska, Rhode Island, and Washington, with more expected. Marriage may also become a ballot question in Maine where last week Maine's Secretary of State ruled that there are enough valid petition signatures to put the issue before the legislature. If it fails there, the issue would be put to a statewide vote. In Oregon, a petition drive is underway creating the prospect for a similar initiative in 1998. States likely to see employment non-discrimination bills include Washington, Virginia, Arizona, Nebraska and Colorado.

For a copy of "Capital Gains and Losses" or copies of 1997 maps and accompanying charts, contact Tracey Conaty at NGLTF at tconaty@ngltf.org or call 202-332-6483 ext. 3303. This information will also be available on the NGLTF web site after the embargo is lifted on Wednesday, November 12 at 12 noon.

This report is released in conjunction with a number of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender organizations across the country. They are:

  • AL - Gay & Lesbian Alliance of Alabama, David White 205-985-5609 or 205-425-2286
  • AR - Arkansas Gay & Lesbian Task Force, 501-562-3548
  • CO - Equality Colorado, Sue Anderson 303-839-5540
  • DE - Delaware ACLU Lesbian and Gay Project, 302-654-3966
  • FL - Human Rights Task Force of Florida, 813-447-0086
  • IL - Illinois Federation for Human Rights, 773-477-7173
  • IN - Justice, Wally Paynter 812-474-4873 OR LGBT Fair, Marla Stevens 317-635-2712
  • KY - Kentucky Fairness Alliance, Maria Price 502-897-1973
  • ME - Maine Lesbian and Gay Political Alliance, 207-761-3732
  • MD - Free State Justice Campaign, Jan Nyquist 301-754-5839 pager
  • MI - Affirmations Lesbian Gay Community Center, Julie Enzser, 810-398-7105 OR Triangle Foundation, Catherine Bailey 313-537-3323
  • MO - Human Rights Project, Tobie Matava 816-753-1672 OR Privacy Rights Education Project, Jeff Wunroe 314-862-4900
  • NE - Citizens For Equal Protection, 402-398-3027
  • NJ - New Jersey Lesbian and Gay Coalition, 908-828-6772
  • NC - NC Pride PAC, 919-829-0343
  • RI - RI Alliance for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, 401-521-4297
  • SD - FACES of South Dakota, 605-343-5577
  • TN - Lesbian and Gay Coalition for Justice, Bill Turner 615-890-2831 or Rhonda White 615-297-4753
  • UT - Utah Human Rights Coalition, Charlene Orchard 801-484-5291
  • VA - Virginians for Justice, 804-231-4077
  • WV - WV Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, Barbara Steinke 304-344-0288
  • WY - Wyoming Grassroots Project, Maria Lasaga 307-742-6278

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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.