Press

The State Of The States: Preview Of Legislatures Shows Record Number Of Gay-Related Bills

Date: 
March 22, 1996

It's been a wild roller coaster year for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders -- at least when it comes to the up and down, good and bad legislation in state capitals. A new survey by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) shows a sweeping number of bills relating to sexual orientation already introduced, with more likely.

"The State of the States: A Preliminary Survey of Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender-Related Legislation for the 1996 Session" has been compiled by NGLTF's Public Policy Department. The state-by-state survey is a snapshot of pending legislation on six key issues related to sexual orientation. The document is a preview for NGLTF's "Beyond the Beltway Report," which will be issued later this summer after the 1996 sessions close.

The survey shows a startling number of bills introduced, in particular anti-gay measures. With weeks left for most sessions, this year's numbers have already surpassed last year's. And while most of the bills are still pending, and not all issues are covered, the survey does illuminate the extent of focus on gay issues nationwide. The bills included in this report are divided into seven categories: Hate Crimes; School Curricula and Related Issues; Same Gender Marriage; Anti-Discrimination Issues; Sodomy; HIV Testing; and Other Issues.

So far, 113 bills on selected gay-related issues have been introduced in the January 1 through March 11 period of the 1996 state sessions. These include 41 friendly bills and 72 hostile bills. The total number of bills introduced so far compares to 105 measures that moved in 35 states all of last year, including 64 pro- and 41 anti-gay. The survey's tallies were compiled through NGLTF's grassroots contacts in the field, Nexis/Lexis searches, and press reports.

This year, the largest number of bills so far fall within the "Same Gender Marriage" category, with 27 states introducing a total of 48 bills, including 47 hostile and one positive. The second largest number of measures fall under "School Related," 18 measures, with 14 hostile and 4 positive (one of the positive provisions is a rider to a hostile measure); and "Hate Crimes," 17 measures, 16 positive and one negative.

Other categories include "Anti-Discrimination," 16 measures, all positive except 1 in Washington that contains a hostile rider; "Sodomy," 6 measures, 4 hostile and 2 positive; "HIV," 3 measures, all negative; and "Other," 4 measures, all positive except one hostile rider on a positive measure. Finally, one negative "Affirmative Action" bill, which arbitrarily includes sexual orientation in an anti-Affirmative Action university bill, was introduced in Mississippi.

A major factor for the avalanche of anti-gay measures is the growing political might of the Radical Right, which is strongly shaping state legislation on social issues. For example, the anti-gay marriage bill, H.B. 1143, passed in South Dakota this year, had the aggressive support of the South Dakota Family Policy Council, which is affiliated with the rabidly homophobic, national group Focus on the Family. The Council unleashed a massive campaign to pass the bill, introduced by Rep. Roger Hunt (R-Brandon), who also sponsored severe abortion restrictions two years ago now up for review by the Supreme Court.

In Utah, ultra-conservative lawmaker Rep. Craig Taylor, who's wife says he relies on "divine inspiration", has unleashed a series of socially repressive measures. One calls for a ballot measure banning the formation of gay student groups and regulating the private statements and behavior of teachers and student counselors (S.B. 246).

"The extreme right is coming out of the woodwork in state capitals everywhere," said Helen Gonzales, NGLTF Public Policy director. "Emboldened with a mission and flush with local and national power, they are focusing on passing a sweeping, extremist, anti-democratic social agenda."

Other hostile bills include Indiana's "Parental Rights and Responsibilities" bill, H.B. 1346. Proponents claim the section limiting the power of state Child Protective Services (CPS) agents to remove children from abusive parents was necessary to protect parents from "family hating" CPS workers, who are believed to be "mostly lesbians."

Most of the marriage bills ban recognition of same-gender marriages, including those possibly recognized in other states in the future. Some of the other bills may not be overtly hostile, but omit or otherwise ignore sexual orientation where it should be included.

Although the surge of hostile bills has grabbed headlines, NGLTF says the progress being made on the state level in terms of pro-gay laws should not be overlooked. "The positive note of this report is the number of bills introduced that include sexual orientation in an affirmative way," said NGLTF's Gonzales. "Given the national climate created by the extreme right wing and fostered by some Republican presidential campaigns, it takes a lot of courage for legislators these days to promote fairness and tolerance."

Measures in Maryland (H.B. 67), New Hampshire (H.B. 1294) and other states would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment and other areas. A measure in Washington (H.B. 2618) would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in health care services. A bill in Virginia (H.B. 1468) would strike down the state's sodomy law. And measures in California (A.B. 2283) and Minnesota (H.B. 2047) would make political candidates adhere to a code of fair campaign practices, including a ban on appealing to negative prejudice based on sexual orientation.

Final results of the state-by-state survey, including outcomes of bills, will be released later this summer in the NGLTF Beyond the Beltway report. To receive a copy of "The State of the States: A Preliminary Survey of Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender-Related Legislation for the 1996 Session," call NGLTF's Helen Gonzales, (202)332-6483, ext. 3236, hgonzales@ngltf.org. For the complete 1995 Beyond the Beltway report, call the NGLTF publication line at (202)332-6483, ext. 3327 or email at publications@ngltf.org.

–30–

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.