Press

Major Hot Air Balloon Event Crashes As Gay Sponsors Withdraw Following Passage Of Anti-Marriage Law

Date: 
February 28, 1996

Arch-conservative politicians in South Dakota may have successfully gotten an anti-gay marriage law off the ground and onto the books, but their efforts may have seriously deflated a major international ballooning event in the state.

The success of the Governor's Cup, a popular event featuring top national and international balloonists, has been threatened by the passage of HB1143 into law. The event was slated to be held this June. HB1143 bans the recognition of same-gender marriage in the state, and was recently signed into law by Governor Bill Janklow.

South Dakota natives Jacques Soukup and Kirk Thomas, longtime partners, philanthropists, investment consultants, internationally recognized balloonists and longtime NGLTF members, have canceled their support of the Governor's Cup in protest of the law. In a sharply worded statement to the Cup's organizing committee, Soukup and Thomas said, "We cannot in good conscience...be associated with a government that has just passed a mean-spirited and hateful piece of legislation that hurts us, hurts the 60,000 gay and lesbian people of South Dakota, hurts members of our families and ultimately the people of South Dakota.

"The Governor's Cup puts us in close association with the government of South Dakota," continues the statement. "Although we remain committed to the people of South Dakota, we have no choice but to withdraw all our support from the Governor's balloon race."

Soukup and Thomas are major figures on the international sport aviation scene. They have won numerous race awards and ballooning citations and played a key role in the creation of the South Dakota Governor's Cup. They founded the Soukup and Thomas International Balloon and Airship Museum in Mitchell, S.D. Soukup and Thomas have played an active role in fighting the anti-marriage bill, both last year when it was first introduced and defeated, and this year. Most recently, the two worked with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) to sponsor the first-ever South Dakota National Coming Out visibility tour held last October. They helped underwrite a computer system and other efforts for Free Americans Creating Equal Status (FACES) of South Dakota, the first state-wide gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender education and advocacy group.

The two had planned to serve as Cup officials and event organizers before the bill was passed, but have withdrawn all support. "There will probably be no measurers, stewards, judges, meteorologists or jury members," said Soukup and Thomas. "Since we know most competitive balloonists worldwide, we will inform them of the actions of the South Dakota government and will discourage anyone from attending this event held in such an inhospitable state."

The history of the anti-gay marriage bill in South Dakota has had more ups and downs than a hot air balloon race. Last year, a similar measure was passed out of various House and Senate committees only to be stalled by local activists before dying in legislative limbo when the session ended. This year the measure, sponsored by Rep. Roger Hunt (R-Brandon), was defeated in its first House committee following dramatic testimony from gay and non-gay advocates. The victory made local history as the first time a gay-related bill was killed on a straight up-or-down vote. Unfortunately the triumph was short-lived as homophobic lawmakers "smoked" the bill out of committee and subsequently passed it.

"The people of South Dakota are being held hostage by right wing extremists," said NGLTF executive director Melinda Paras. "This bill was about national right wing extremist groups inserting themselves into the business of state governments to forward their deplorable agenda of intolerance and hatred. The sponsors of HB1143 used old fears and prejudices to whip up new hatreds and confusion."

"The values of justice, equality, fairness, compassion and generosity should guide the citizens of South Dakota," said Barry Wick, president of FACES/South Dakota. "The myths, stereotypes and lies used to pass this legislation can cause harassment, intolerance and even violence for us."

South Dakota and Utah are the only two states to ban same-gender marriage. Some 20 other states are currently facing laws that would prohibit gay marriage.

For more information about HB1143, contact Barry Wick of FACES South Dakota, at (605)343-5577.

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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.