Anti-Marriage Bills Spread Across States

February 08, 1996

Aided by an unprecedented national coalition of gay movement groups focused on winning and keeping the freedom to marry, gay, lesbian, bisexual and non-gay activists around the country are fighting a rash of anti-marriage bills. With state legislatures in session for hardly a month, the bills have been introduced by Radical Right lawmakers to block recognition of same-sex couples' marriages in 17 states.

Although gay and lesbian couples cannot legally marry in any state, arch- conservative legislators are attempting to rush through anti-marriage bills in Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, New Mexico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington. The measures would declare that a couple's legal marriage from one state would not be recognized when they crossed the border to another state. In addition, an anti-gay ballot measure in Oregon, if passed this year, would prohibit same-gender couples' civil marriages as well as overturn gay-inclusive nondiscrimination laws.

The bills reflect the growing national attention to gay people's equal marriage rights, especially from the Radical Right. Randall Terry, chief of Operation Rescue, has announced this week he is going to Hawaii with "Gay Agenda" video maker Bill Horn and other right wing representatives to protest gay marriages. Meanwhile, on primary weekend in Iowa, presidential candidates Phil Gramm and Patrick Buchanan have been requested to speak at an anti-marriage rally.

"The goal of these anti-marriage bills is to shut down the public discussion that has begun around the injustice of denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry," said Evan Wolfson, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund Marriage Project director. "The state attacks offer us an excellent opportunity to push our political and educational work alongside the legal efforts that will bring us the freedom to marry."

Numerous media reports, editorials and talk show programs have already addressed the unfairness of denying the freedom to marry to gay people. For example, the Economist magazine endorsed equal marriage rights in a cover story, the Des Moines Register opposed a local anti-marriage bill, and Oprah and Nightline have covered the struggle.

Last year, measures to block recognition of marriages were defeated in Alaska and South Dakota. Unfortunately, Utah passed such a measure, which civil rights groups have vowed to challenge in court. So far this year a measure in Maine was withdrawn by its sponsor after public uproar.

Although each measure is worded slightly different, most of the bills are virtually identical. For example, California's A.B. 1982 states, "A marriage contracted outside this state between individuals of the same gender is not valid in this state." The bill was passed 41-31 by the Assembly last month, with a Senate battle still to come. South Dakota's House Bill 1143 goes a step further, stating, "Marriage is a personal relation, between a man and a woman, arising out of a civil contract to which the consent of parties capable of making it is necessary. Consent alone does not constitute a marriage; it must be followed by a solemnization."

"What we have been trumpeting for the past year is happening: same-gender marriage is in the sights of the radical right and is exploding into the national political consciousness," said Robert Bray, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) media director. "Marriage is a basic human right. And whether I choose to get married or not, that choice should be mine and my partner's to make -- not Pat Robertson, Lou Sheldon, Newt Gingrich or homophobic state lawmakers."

The National Freedom to Marry Coalition, comprised of more than 250 organizations, is helping activists battle the bills, educate communities and brief the media. It has sponsored a Freedom to Marry sign-on resolution, which has gathered hundreds of signatures from individuals and organizations, including religious leaders.

Recent and upcoming Freedom to Marry activities include:

Distribution of exhaustive background materials, legislative strategy tips, and talking points, available in English and Spanish, by Lambda to organizers and the public nationwide.

Mailing of the NGLTF activist kit, "To Have and To Hold, Organizing for Our Right to Marry," plus direct technical assistance to activists in all targeted states;

A special editorial packet by the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) -- just in time for Valentine's Day -- that contains editorial and feature article suggestions, fact sheets, and more, sent to dozens of major media.

A live discussion in the America OnLine "Coliseum" on same-gender marriage, Feb. 15, 9 p.m. eastern standard time, with NGLTF's Robert Bray and Lambda's Evan Wolfson.

Town Halls, rallies and other community meetings sponsored by the local Freedom to Marry projects around the country. For example, in downtown Denver the Equality Colorado project and other local groups are sponsoring a Valentine's Day "Rally For Our Families: Stop the Anti-Gay Attacks". Equality Colorado is also launching a "Family Album Photo Project" in which gay, lesbian and bisexual people send family pictures to state lawmakers with a note urging defeat of H.B. 1291, the anti-gay marriage bill.

For more information on the National Freedom to Marry Coalition and related efforts, contact Evan Wolfson, Lambda, (212)995-8585. To receive a copy of the "To Have and To Hold" NGLTF marriage organizing kit, call (202)332-6483, ext. 3327. Other contacts include GLAAD, (212)807-1700; and the LA Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center, (213)860-7357.


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.